Berlin, I Love You


Reviewed by: Jane Fae

Berlin, I Love You
"A series of pieces that each, in its own right, has some merit, but which together never quite gels." | Photo: Signature Entertainment

Berlin, I love you. But maybe not so much the film, the latest instalment in the Cities of Love franchise - a themed series of films intended to showcase the universality of love in major cities around the world.

Each film is a collation composed of ten or more segments, vignettes, individually created by one or more directors, building to a collective feature film. The project was kicked off by French film producer Emmanuel Benbihy, who also worked as an executive producer on this film/location, and has already alighted on Paris (Paris, Je t'Aime), New York (New York, I Love You) and Rio (Rio, Eu Te Amo).

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A stellar cast, including actors Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley and Mickey Rourke, and a bakers' dozen of top drawer directors, not to mention eight respected and accomplished writers. What could possibly go wrong?

The short answer is nothing much. But that is the wrong question. Rather, we should ask, how could it go right. Because what this approach delivers is both staccato and disjointed. A series of pieces that each, in its own right, has some merit, but which together never quite gels.

So the film opens with the one story that acts as wraparound to the others. This is Transitions, directed by Josef Rusnak, and tells the story of two street artists - Israeli singer (Rafaelle Cohen) and German performance angel (Robert Stradlober), complete with fluffy white angel wings – who come together in a dispute over an on-street street pitch, argue, make up, drive around the city a bit and then, because this is all about Love with a capital L, do a bit of Loving in shy under-stated fashion before carrying on with their lives.

The episode is reminiscent of an early track by Al Stewart, and his own lyric about indeterminate love from Swiss Cottage Manoeuvres:

“She left on the train with a see you again and a smile And I couldn't say what I had won or I lost Or even just what I had seen But when I'm alone I just think of her once in awhile”

And that, in the end, is the problem with this assembly of life cuttings. Running at an average of 12 minutes apiece, there is little room for any individual vignette to get much beyond the cute or quirky or trite. So alongside this over-arching romance, we get refugee worker (Keira Knightley) falling out with mum (Helen Mirren) in Massy Tadjedin’s Under Your Feet, when she takes a young Arab child home with her while his mother is away. Burdening herself with all the ills in the world, as she really oughtn't. But it is OK in the end, because she and Mirren have a moment of exquisite bonding.

Til Schweiger’s Love is in the Air zeroes in on ageing American lothario (Mickey Rourke) picking up an American woman (Toni Garrn), young enough to be his daughter in a bar. The scene is played for max sleaze and the ending is... unfortunate. As is the fate of the sexist guy in Stephanie Martin and Claus Clausen’s Me Three, who makes the mistake of inserting himself into a conversation between a group of women in a laundromat in the process of discussing the various forms of abuse they have suffered at the hands of men.

There is violence against refugees in Dani Levi’s Hidden, a low-key story of coming out in Drag Queen, in which the title character is played by Diego Luna. There is espionage, journalism and a surreal tale of the desperate man (Jim Sturgess), in Berlin to drink himself to death after an unhappy affair, who is saved by falling in love with Vanessa – his new car's GPS voice.

So there is disjointedness and, by the nature of the film, a failure to commit. Many of the short episodes end on a question mark, which is well justified in an individual sketch. What happens next? We don't know. But it makes you think!

But after the fourth or fifth such question mark, you cannot help but start to get bored.

It is also inevitable that some segments are better than others: some almost banal – as Under Your Feet, which ought to be a high point of the film but, in the end, seems mostly to waste the talents of two exceptional actresses in a resolution that feels like an out-take from EastEnders.

Other issues abound. This is a love letter to Berlin? So where are the Berlinitas? The quality that makes Berlin Berlin? Here and there a certain vibe pokes through. Something a bit queer, a bit on the edge. But otherwise, there is next to nothing to locate this film in Berlin. Rather, with a bevy of international directors and actors, both skewed heavily towards the Anglo-Saxon, this is at best Berlin through non-German eyes.

Worse, as someone who does not know Berlin well, I was left with little additional knowledge of the city. Where were the big tourist attractions and landmarks? The impression I left with was that those contributing to this film were so keen to communicate an abstract mood that they quite failed to locate the action in a physical place. Or perhaps, even, they avoided doing so in case it started to look like a travelogue.

Yes. There were moments when this film soared. Most notably in Berlin Dance, directed by Justin Franklin, and focusing on a lost tourist (Jenna Dewan) who wanders into a fantastical magical ballroom space where all are transformed and she is able to dance the night away with a local Prince Charming to the accompaniment of Berlin's renowned Palast Orchester.

In the end, well-intentioned and worthy (which is rarely a good thing): but also patchy, wasteful and frustrating.

Reviewed on: 21 Aug 2019
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Berlin, I Love You packshot
Ten stories of romance play out against the backdrop of the German capital.

Director: Dianna Agron, Peter Chelsom, Claus Clausen, Fernando Eimbcke, Justin Franklin, Dennis Gansel, Dani Levy, Daniel Lwowski, Stephanie Martin, Josef Rusnak, Til Schweiger, Massy Tadjedin, Gabriela Tscherniak

Writer: Fernando Eimbcke, Justin Franklin, Dennis Gansel, Alison Kathleen Kelly, Dani Levy, Massy Tadjedin, Gabriela Tscherniak, David Vernon

Starring: Keira Knightley, Helen Mirren, Luke Wilson, Jim Sturgess, Mickey Rourke, Jenna Dewan, Emily Beecham, Dianna Agron, Veronica Ferres, Diego Luna, Iwan Rheon, Charlotte Le Bon, Sibel Kekilli, Nolan Gerard Funk, Julia Dietze

Year: 2019

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Germany


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