Another entry in the Cities of Love franchise, Berlin, I Love You stars an intriguing slate of A-list actors in an anthology film that invites the audience to see the struggles of finding love in a city known for its complicated history. Unfortunately, over the course of ten vignettes Berlin, I Love You presents a wide array of stories that never gel or achieve substance below the surface. This Blu-ray arrives with an impressive A/V package but no special features other than a few trailers. It’s an uneven film with some good actors that never finds proper footing. Skip It.
I’m sorry, Berlin, I Love You, it’s not you, it’s me. Popping in the Blu-ray I was excited at the cast list and directors for this next film in the Cities of Love franchise. Berlin has a solemn yet vibrant quality that could be ripe for deep seeded stories about intense love and romance. The previous films in the series are well received so where’s the harm, right? As it started I grew excited at the possibilities for complicated relationships and fleeting desires in a place not known for its outpouring of romantic love on the world stage. Color me interested, right? As the vignettes rolled on I became increasingly bored and disinterested in the characters. Sure there were some thought-provoking ideas and social issues worth examining, but where is the love? Berlin, I Love You but I’m not in love with you. So, what happened to us?
Damiel (Robert Stadlober) is a performance artist donning angel wings on a street corner as busker Sara (Rafaëlle Cohen) parks her tip jar and begins spouting bland pop tunes on her acoustic guitar. They initially despise each other, but things change as their story “Transitions” becomes the through-line of the film. From there we get a dark tonal shift into “Berlin Ride” starring Jim Sturgess as a depressed photographer whose life is altered by a talking sedan. Because the meet-cute magic of Sara and Damiel transitioned into the tale of a magical car, it doesn’t seem much of a stretch, which gives you the impression that fantastical elements may aid in the overall tone of the film. I’ll take it! Love can be magical. “Under Your Feet” with Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren swoops in with a cold hammer of reality for a vignette about the refugee crisis. It’s easily the best piece of the film but comes out of nowhere. “Love is in the Air” is a Neil LaBute scripted piece with Mickey Rourke as an aging playboy who gets more than he bargained for after hitting on a younger woman. The crushing emotional twist of LaBute’s piece is quickly swept under the rug for “Berlin Dance” starring Jenna Dewan as a tourist wandering through scenes of artistic wonder and ballroom dancing. It’s a beautiful vignette but the tone says “American Express commercial.”
“Me Three” tries its best to tackle the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements with a group of women holed up on a laundromat discussing their experiences with abusive men. When an infamous “casting couch” director strolls in the women focus their rage then have a dance party. “Hidden” returns to the plight of refugees when a man (Omar Elba) hides in a brothel and seeks help from a prostitute after he was attacked. “Sunday Morning” finds Diego Luna as a drag queen chatting up a sexually confused teenager on his birthday. It’s a touching piece that comes out of nowhere but Luna handles the material confidently. “Lucinda in Berlin” finds Hollywood exec Burke (Luke Wilson) watching a children’s puppet show after taking a heated call. Katarina (Dianna Agron) is the gypsy putting on the show and dispensing groan-worthy life advice to the uptight movie exec. Finally “Embassy” adds a bit of action (and a Game of Thrones reunion) to the proceedings as cab driver Yasil (Sibel Kekilli) engages in a high-speed chase after picking up Greg (Iwan Rheon) hoping to evade kidnappers looking for his envelope of secrets.
Berlin, I Love You is a mostly light-hearted film with just enough substance to keep casual audiences invested. With familiar actors and an intriguing connecting thread from Sara and Damiel that resolves predictably, Berlin, I Love You is a fine film for a rainy afternoon. Where it falls short is in the powerful social issues present in the vignettes that are often eroded away with hokey characters, cringe-worthy dialogue, or a dance party. I was impressed at how the various vignettes each had their own individual style while the film maintained a consistent visual look across the ten vignettes. Anthology films need a solid anchor or through-line for an audience to navigate the various stories. Here it should be the city acting as the main character, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel connected to Berlin at all. These stories could’ve been set anywhere for that matter and still achieved the same effect.
While I haven’t seen the previous entries in the Cities series I can say that each vignette is interesting in its own way with fascinating turns and entertaining characters, but too often their slim runtime compresses the themes and dialogue rendering the output either a great TV commercial or a bad short film. “Under Your Feet” seemed fully formed enough to achieve some depth which makes sense considering the sheer acting talent behind it. I can’t recommend this film to anyone unless they’re fans of the Cities series or enjoy this kind of intertwined storytelling so much that they’re willing to sacrifice on compelling stories and characters.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Berlin, I Love You arrives on Blu-ray thanks to Lionsgate Films. The Region A BD-50 disc is packaged in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with a Digital Copy insert. The disc opens to the Lionsgate logo before a series of trailers and then finally the Main Menu screen with scenes playing above typical navigation options.
Presented in an AVC encoded 1080p transfer with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Berlin, I Love You arrives on Blu-ray with an excellent visual presentation. Overal, the transfer is bright and vivid with bold primaries that often settle into a bleak color palette outdoors. Fine detail is everywhere from the tiny feathers on Damiel’s wings to the detail of Mickey Rourke’s numerous tattoos. Blacks are inky and dark with contrast nicely balanced giving adequate detail in nighttime scenes and in shadow. The industrial club where Damiel performs is full of intense lighting and stark contrasts which the transfer handles confidently. Though the vignettes are from different directors each one retained cinematographer Kolja Brandt which maintained a consistent look to the film overall.
The solo audio track on Berlin, I Love You is a meaty DTS-HD MA 5.1 track that is surprisingly good. Dialogue is crisp and clearly projected throughout the feature no matter the spoken language. Surround channels are in use constantly creating a lush soundfield. LFE is round and punchy without distortion such as the industrial club’s EDM tracks. This DTS track is excellent at enveloping you in the film’s various settings and handling the wide variety of music tracks offered.
Sadly you get a few Lionsgate Trailers here that also play after loading the Blu-ray into your machine. For such an involved film you'd think there would be something to chew on worth checking out.
Berlin, I Love You presents diminished returns in the Cities of Love franchise. While each vignette offers an interesting premise, they fell completely short of what I’d expect from the filmmakers involved. Unsurprisingly I found the piece with Keira Knightley and Helen Mirren to be the most satisfying. Lionsgate Films delivers Berlin, I Love You on Blu-ray with an excellent A/V presentation with only a few trailers as supplemental material. I can’t recommend this one to many other than those invested in the franchise. Berlin, I Love You but we should just Skip It.