The latest installment of Emmanuel Benbihy’s Cities of Love series, which has already dealt with Paris, New York and Rio, is set in Berlin, though with few exceptions the episodes could take place virtually anywhere. “Berlin, I Love You” lacks the sense of place that previous installments have highlighted. Unfortunately, it’s also without much charm.
The episodes, most of them from ten to twelve minutes long, come from a variety of directors, some working from their own scripts but many using ones penned by others. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to make any difference; even the best of them are mediocre, and quite a few positively poor.
After an animated collage depicting aspects of Berlin’s history, the film opens with a sketch directed by Josef Rusnak that introduces a street performance artist (Robert Stadlober) who mimics a statue of an angel, presumably channeling “Wings of Desire.” A young lady (Rafaëlle Cohen) takes up a spot beside him and begins singing, much to his annoyance, and he leaves. But the two find one another again, and the film periodically returns to their romantic journey until they commit to each other in the big finale that assembles the stars of other segments at an outdoor concert.
Probably the biggest stars represented are Helen Mirren and Keira Knightley, who appear as mother and daughter in Massy Tadjedin’s “Under Your Feet.” Knightley is a young woman who brings home a refugee child, whom Mirren, initially opposed to sheltering the boy, becomes attached to. Addressing Germany’s current immigration crisis is laudable, but why two British women should be at the center of things is puzzling.
The best-known of the writers involved in the project is most likely Neil LaBute, whose “Love Is In the Air” is directed by Til Schweiger. Mickey Rourke plays a man who picks up a much younger woman (Toni Garrn) in a bar and takes her back to his room, explaining how he regrets never having known his daughter—not in the Biblical sense, of course. Given LaBute’s characteristic concerns, the ending will come as no surprise, and the vignette could be set anywhere.
So could other episodes, like Peter Chelsom’s “Berlin Ride,” about how a talking car leads a young man (Jim Sturgess) to love, or Dianna Agron’s “Lucinda in Berlin,” with Luke Wilson as a burned-out movie director who’s renewed by meeting a pretty young puppeteer; both have the city in the title, but it doesn’t seem essential to either, although each shows off some of its sights. A car is also involved in Dennis Gansel’s “Embassy,” about a taxi driver drawn into the world of espionage when she picks up a passenger; it’s Hitchcock very light.
In another segment, Fernando Eimbcke’s “Sunday Morning,” a teen (Michelangelo Fortuzzi) meets a transgender woman (Diego Luna) on a bridge, and they talk until he asks her for a kiss. It’s pleasantly played but amounts to little. “Me Three,” by Stephanie Martin and Claus Clausen, centers on a group of women who meet in a Laundromat into which a piggish man stumbles; it morphs into one of the movie’s musical numbers, like the big closing concert.
“Berlin, I Love You” features some nice cinematography by Kokja Brandt, and one has to admire the work done by editor Peter R. Adam in trying to tie all the strands together into something resembling a coherent whole.
But the writing would have to be a lot sharper to make this a recommended stop on your cinematic itinerary.