SIFF 2019: This is Not Berlin

Do you remember being a teenage boy?  If not, consider yourself lucky, though I’m sure the alternative is no skip through the lilacs.  The pit of loneliness, anger and disconnection that takes seed inside the patriarchy dries out the emotionally vulnerable male adolescent until they’re a crispy, dull insert into the file folder of guydom.  This is Not Berlin gives a glimpse at that almost extinguished spark reigniting in treacherous, adult circumstances for two friends seeking something more than the carbon copy sex and violence of their all-boys locker room scene you really do not want.

Open on Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León), disconnected from a chaotic fight around him, falling to the ground while boys joyous smash each other’s faces in.  There’s limited worth in the battle scars of intraschool, non-sanctioned group boxing; a feint to evade dinnertime parental stares is worth a month’s harassment from his classmates.  With best buddy Gera (José Antonio Toledano), it’s easy to find that Carlos and Gera have ample talent (or at least ambition) beyond loaning pornography to classmates and making toys that smoke.  It’s the mid80s and the world is dying around them, and they hardly even know it.

Xabiani Ponce de León and José Antonio Toledano traverse the difficulties of emerging sexuality and sexual jealousy as their desires intersect with visceral yet somehow still understated, radically queer demonstrations, sautering the impulsivity and reactiveness of youth onto the very issues the Carlos protests and Gera quietly rages at missing.  León takes his claim in this adult world they found; the definition of punk is being sought by a private school rebel seeking acceptance. With a mother (Marina de Tavira, Roma) knocked out on the same drugs he’s using to party, the generations of dissatisfaction blur in a non-stop battle for superiority. We’re never really ready to hand that baton to the next generation, but the rebels, the artists, the mercenaries of momentum will crash through the barriers and shave half their head.  This is Not Berling is as riling as Beats Per Minute, as gritty and volatile as Beach Rats, and tremendously critical of masculine perception of connection. I need to see this film again.


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