Berlin, I Love You is a messy portrait of the capital of Germany that knits together ten short stories told from the perspective of ten different directors. (AG: 1/5 stars)
Review by FF2 Intern Anika Guttormson
Berlin, I Love You undertakes a difficult challenge in its compilation of ten different short stories but ultimately fails to create anything worthwhile. Moments where it appears to be grasping for something profound are always overshadowed by gaping problems with tone, story, or characterization. The first short follows the story of a young man who is talked down from attempting suicide by a sentient car. From here, we jump into a short frontlined by Kiera Knightley that addresses the refugee crisis in Berlin from the perspective of a white social worker. If you’re wondering how the viewer is supposed to easily grasp the transition between a man who falls in love with a car to the weight of a refugee child facing possible deportation then we’re on the same page.
Berlin, I Love You is a part of the Cities of Love series produced by Saban Films. On their website they discuss the transformative power of media and how cinema in particular holds the ability to push people to create changes in their communities.¹ For a production company that demands societal change in its mission statement it’s upsetting then that their picture of Berlin is so exceptionally and noticeably devoid of LGBT people and people of color. On top of this the few storylines that feature minority characters paint these peoples in such negative lights that it’s impossible to walk away feeling like this film holds any revolutionary power.
In Kiera Knightley’s segment of the film we are asked to view the refugee crisis in Berlin through the eyes of Helen Mirren, who plays her mother. The mother is worried about her daughters commitment to her work in the refugee center as she’s concerned that it’s prohibiting her from starting a family of her own. It’s through interacting with one of the children that Helen Mirren’s character begins to understand the importance of her daughter’s work. Never mind that we are meant to emphasize with a woman who sees migrant people as “unimportant.”
Later near the films conclusion we meet the character of a transgender woman played by a wildly miscast Diego Luna. Luna consoles a lonely sixteen year old boy sitting on the canal by kissing him as a “birthday gift.” It is disgusting that the only transgender character in the entire piece is also shown having an encounter with a minor. What these plot lines all share in common is how they center the feelings of the privileged and use their marginalized characters as props with which to help their protagonists grow.
On top of the blatant insensitivity mentioned before the film also struggles to produce female characters that don’t feel like they walked out of the pages of a high school boys fantasy. In the first short involving the sentient car who talks a man down from committing suicide the protagonist uses his newfound lust for life to later pursue a human woman. The reason that he decides to start something with her is because he sees her crying and thinks that her tears make her look beautiful. Instead of comforting her he takes mental pictures of her tears and as audience members we are meant to try and divine some sort of higher meaning from this that doesn’t involve lazy writing and blatant misogyny.
I’ve saved the best for last. The most shocking story of Berlin, I Love You takes place in a bar where a sixty year old man repeatedly makes sexual advances towards a twenty-something year old woman despite her repeatedly hinting at the fact that he is making her uncomfortable. The woman then pushes the man into sharing some secrets from his past. He admits that he once had a daughter who shares the same name and age as the person sitting in front of him, whose mother took her from him at a young age. It is obvious to anyone who even vaguely understands story structure that this woman is in fact his long lost daughter, yet we are forced to suffer through increasingly sexual advances towards her before he finally kisses her and she decides that enough is enough.
Berlin, I Love You attempts to fuse humor and drama into a singular film fail spectacularly and leave us in a state of utter confusion. While there are some genuine reaches towards grandeur the puzzle pieces simply don’t match up in this portrait of Berlin.
© Anika Guttormson (02/19/19) FF2 Media
Photo Credits: IMDB
Q: Does Berlin, I Love You pass the Bechdel-Wallace Test?
A few of the shorts prominently feature women in main and supporting roles.