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    This Is Not Berlin Is a Queer and Worthwhile Coming of Age Drama

    By Gary Kramer–

    This Is Not Berlin, opening August 30 in the Bay Area, is director/co-writer Hari Sama’s immersive and semi-autobiographical drama about two friends, Carlos (Xabiani Ponce de León) and Gera (José Antonio Toledano), who get caught up in Mexico City’s punk scene in 1986. While the androgynous Carlos becomes enamored with artist Nico (Mauro Sanchez Navarro) and his world—and Nico is crushed on Carlos—Gera starts giving into his own desires and attractions.

    Max Zunino, who co-wrote the film with Sama and Rodrigo Ordoñez, spoke with me for the San Francisco Bay Times about recreating that heady time and making This Is Not Berlin.

    Gary M. Kramer: How did you work with Hari on a screenplay of a story from his life?

    Max Zunino: Hari and I have been friends for a long time. He asked me to write this script for him and we included Rodrigo. We had several meetings talking about Hari’s past, and those years in Mexico, and the situation for the youth at that time. In 1986, I was 10. We remembered things, like the soccer World Cup and the music—a lot of bands [from 1986] became famous in the 1990s. Most of those bands started in El Nueve, the bar that was the inspiration for the Aztec [the club in the film]. The club was a character — maybe the film’s most important character. We wrote that, discussed it a lot, and started making a compilation of the memories that Hari had growing up in a middle-class suburb.

    Hari told us about his friends at that point of his life, in high school, his first encounter in this bar that opened a new universe for him. He chose to be a part of it. All the drugs and intense music—this new wave, this dark feeling was something they were living very deeply in at that point. Sexuality wasn’t open, which is why it’s called This Is Not Berlin. Berlin was open to all identity expressions and sexuality was mainstream, and here, in Mexico, we were years behind that.

    Gary M. Kramer: What do you recall about a particularly intense friendship/relationship you had as a teen?

    Max Zunino: I was very shy at that age. It was difficult for me to get in such an intense relationship. I identify myself more with the guys before they go to the club than after. My coming of age came late in my life, like in my twenties. I didn’t discover that world when I was a teen.

    Gary M. Kramer: What observations do you have about the depictions of masculinity and sexuality in the film?

     Max Zunino: This hyper masculinity was the way we lived in middle-class schools. I shared that experience, which was based on Hari’s life. Masculinity is like a cliché or cartoon in these places. But we wanted him to discover a place that was the opposite—hyper-sensitive—and have a reaction to that straight, conservative, middle-class culture of those times. It wasn’t popular, as you can see in the film. But you see where this story is situated. It’s a small [pocket] in the big city. It’s what these people wanted to be—to have sexual liberation and gender expression.

    Gary M. Kramer: How explicitly did you wanted to portray the nudity, sexuality and queer content in the film?

     Max Zunino: The decision was more Hari’s than ours, as scriptwriters. We describe the blowjob [in Nico’s studio] and the scene with Maude (Klaudia Garcia) and they start painting, but all end up naked. The characters used nudity as a weapon and as a part of their speech of freedom and rebellion. The way Hari presented how much was seen or hidden was more a director’s decision than the writers’.

     Gary M. Kramer: Carlos has his consciousness expanded in the film. Can you recall a life-changing experience in your life and how it impacted you?

     Max Zunino: I would love to have something like that—a particular point that you can realize where you changed. I have several points in my life that were changes. First was moving to Mexico at age 7. I was born in Uruguay. We left because of a military dictatorship. That was my first traumatic event that changed everything. I think: What would my life be like if I had stayed there? I’d be some other guy. I’d do something different than cinema.

    I think another strong change is when you realize you’re not a child anymore. This can evolve in many different ways, like when you discover your sexuality. Another part of your growth is leaving your parent’s house and pretending to be yourself and being economically independent. I have other things, ending a long relationship—I have a couple of stories of those—but I think it’s very necessary to find these points in your life that make you rethink things.

    © 2019 Gary M. Kramer

    Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer