"The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool."
This is the sage advice rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) shares with aspiring writer William Miller (Patrick Fugit) in Almost Famous. I couldn't help but be reminded of Cameron Crowe's film throughout the vibrant coming-of-age film This Is Not Berlin, especially in scenes where Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) learns the ways of the world from his hip-but-grounded uncle Esteban (director Hari Sama).
Much like that film, a teenager finds himself immersed in a very adult world, only this time the setting is 1986 Mexico instead of 1973 California. And instead of rock music, it's the world of avant-garde art. This Is Not Berlin is also a lot more frank about sex, sexuality and drug use. In fact, it's one of the most free, least judgmental films about the choices people make that I can recall seeing.
Carlos and his best friend Gera (José Antonio Toledano) do things a lot of teenagers do: get in fights, sneak peaks at their dads' porn collections, smoke near windowsills so their parents won't find out. And they desperately want to be cool. But the only cool person they know is Gera's sister Rita (Ximena Romo, who reminds of every girl who was too cool for me in high school). She's in a punk band and can sneak them into the bar they frequent.
And that one night changes both of their lives, as Carlos joins an anarchist art collective run by Nico (Mauro Sánchez Navarro) and Gera falls under the spell of a predatory drug dealer (David Montalvo). And they both quickly experience the highs and lows of their new experiences as their friendship falls apart.
This Is Not Berlin also pulls off the rare feat of being about pretentious people without being pretentious itself. The film even takes time to critique its own characters, with an art historian chastising the group for shamelessly ripping off European artists and partying endlessly while their friends are dying of AIDS. And it subtly critiques the absentee parents of Carlos, Gera and Rita, blinded by their own privilege and addictions to see their kids struggling.
The film also features an incredible soundtrack, providing an effective snapshot of a city, country and kid growing up and moving forward.