Review: THIS IS NOT BERLIN Is A Passionate But Somewhat Uneven Portrait Of Counterculture


This is Not Berlin offers a compelling coming-of-age story with a unique voice, even if it doesn't always hit all of the targets at which it aims.
Technical Merit

This is Not Berlin, co-written and directed by Hari Sama, is a new Mexican coming-of-age film about what it means to not fit in with society. A mostly interesting portrait of counterculture, this movie may not quite match the heights of other similarly-themed films, but its clear voice allows it to stand out among the crowd.

This movie follows a teenager that is struggling to fit in with his peers when he discovers a nightclub where he is exposed to the worlds of punk, sexual freedom, and drugs. Although there are plenty of stories about finding oneself, it is a story that has stood the test of time because of its universality. At some point in our lives, all of us must grow up, and most of us experience an identity crisis, even if it isn’t quite like Carlos’s.

Sama handles many difficult topics in his film, including sexual identity and drug abuse, and he approaches them in a way that feels honest and personal. Although the character finally finds a way to fit in because of his newfound association with this group, the movie doesn’t glorify their extreme actions. Instead, the purpose of the film is to shine light on the emotions that Carlos is experiencing and why he turned to sex and drugs to try to find comfort.

The biggest issue with this movie is that it does start to meander at times. Although the film is pretty consistently interesting, there are a few moments in which the movie does feel like it is beginning to go off track, only to recover quickly afterwards. It’s the inconsistency that is ultimately distracting, as you are caught off-guard by the constant fluctuation between deliberate and slow.

Carlos is certainly a very compelling character. Anyone who has ever felt like they didn’t fit in with the rest of society will see something with which they will identify in Carlos, even if they haven’t done some of the things he has done. His arc of self-discovery offers no surprises, but still manages to be very effective.

this is not berlin club
Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn films.

Lead actor Xabiani Ponce de Léon gives a great performance in his role. He plays the character with a lot of subtlety and nuance, which can be just as impressive as someone who gives a performance that is big and flashy. The emotional range that this role required is truly impressive, especially for someone who has mostly done TV work in the past. Hopefully he will continue to get opportunities like this in the future.

The visuals in the film are also very good. The production design and cinematography do an excellent job of transporting you back to the Mexico City of the 1980’s. The visual style of the movie is very distinctive and, combined with the voice of the film, helps make it to be more memorable and fun than it otherwise would be.

This is Not Berlin is definitely not a perfect movie, nor is it the most original, but its unique voice and perspective on universal themes makes it a film worth watching. If you enjoy coming-of-age dramas, check this one out when it comes to a theater near you.

This is Not Berlin is now playing in theaters.


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Sean Boelman
Sean is a film student, aspiring filmmaker, and life-long cinephile. For as long as he can remember, he has always loved film, but he credits the film Pan's Labyrinth as having started his love of film as art. Sean enjoys watching many types of films, although some personal favorite genres include dramatic comedies, romantic comedies, heist films, and art horror.


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