I have a love/hate (no pun intended) relationship with Emmanuel Benbihy's Cities of Love series. I adored Paris, Je T'aime and New York, I Love You had several stories that really hit home with me. But, I wasn't as enthused by the last installment, Rio, I Love You.
My honest first reaction to hearing the Berlin would host the next stop on the Cities of Love tour was confusion. I mean, love isn't probably in the top 10 list of emotions when you say "Berlin," so basing ten love stories there just didn't seem like a wise choice in my opinion. The obvious next choices would have been something a bit more traditional such as London or Rome, but the producers chose Berlin and it quickly becomes apparent that this installment isn't like the others in the popular film series.
The Cities of Love films pair world-renowned directors and writers to craft several short stories set in the host city. Berlin, I Love You is the most recent stop and it's apparent that the star power hasn't diminished over the course of the franchise as several Hollywood A-listers such as Helen Mirren, Keira Knightley, Luke Wilson, and Mickey Rourke round out the star-studded cast.
While the previous host cities in the series have a long and lustrous history with romance, Berlin was a city divided by politics and a very real wall as recently as 30 years ago. Of course, a lot has changed in the generation since the Cold War ended with the collapsing of the wall separating East and West Berlin.
And yet, despite all of the progress in Germany since then and, more importantly, the evil deeds committed by Hitler leading up and during World War II, Berlin still is not what I would consider a top lovers' retreat. Quite the contrary, I think that the German city still retains many of the outdated descriptors such as cold and menacing.
Perhaps it's for this very reason that Berlin makes an excellent choice as the setting for love vignettes. Or perhaps the city simply offered the biggest tax breaks in an effort to help sway the pendulum of the city's reputation from the past to its future. In this regard, I do think that Berlin, I Love You is moderately successful as it showcases its burgeoning underground music scene and nightlife in a way that is probably a bit shocking for more audience members.
And yet, ironically, Berlin, I Love You doesn't so much as advertise the city as much as an ideal. There are very little actual landmarks on display over the course of the ten short films and many of the stories are set in nameless bars, or hotels, or riverfronts that could be any number of European locales.
Of course, the real salient detail of these films for audiences isn't the locale so much as it's the stars in them. The short stories lack a single cohesive thread that I wish they would include, but as a disorganized series of stories, there are some really good ones and some that fail to connect. And then there's "Love Is in the Air."
By far, the highlight of the compilation is "Under Your Feet" in which Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley play a mother and daughter set against the backdrop of the refugee crisis. Not only are the two A-listers wonderful in their fleeting moments on the screen, but they deliver a message that is as personal as it is important. It's easy to become jaded given the current state of the political climate, but it's refreshing to see the film medium provide simple clarity time and time again.
Perhaps the quirkiest story of the bunch involves Diego Luna as a drag queen recounting a fight with his boyfriend to a complete stranger. First, Diego proves why he is an amazing talent on the rise with a raw performance that simply strips away the machismo of his heritage to deliver a powerful life-affirming message. Love comes in all shapes and sizes and "Sunday Morning" proves that there's a bit of curiosity in all of us.
Still, the film that will the most lasting impression (for better or worse) is "Love Is in the Air." Mickey Rourke plays an aging philanderer (for lack of a better word) who is more than comfortable in striking up casual conversion and even more casual sex with a woman more than half his age. You could say that he's old enough to be her father or grandfather for that matter. Their bizarre tryst ends with a predictable shocker that even M. Night Shyamalan wouldn't touch and yet, the story does stand out in terms (perhaps because) of its shock value and really makes you wonder about today's society.
The nice thing with this series of films is that each installment brings with it a cornucopia of stories. While they might not all resonate with you, there's a pretty good chance that many will strike a chord with you. Berlin, I Love You is no exception. While it didn't do much to persuade to go back and visit Berlin to fall in love, it did deliver a solid two hours of entertainment.
Berlin, I Love You is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.