Berlin – Buenos Aires

English Title: Berlin – Buenos Aires

Original Title: Die Tränen meiner Mutter

Country of Origin: Germany, Argentina

Studio: Filmworker, Creado Film

Director: Alejandro Cardenas-Amelio

Producer(s): Nicolas Grupe, Dirk Hamm

Screenplay: Cuini Amelio-Ortiz, Alejandro Cardenas-Amelio, Christoph Silber

Cinematographer: Florian Schilling

Editor: Renata Salazar-Ivancan

Runtime: 91 minutes

Genre: Melodrama

Language: German, Spanish

Starring/Cast: Joachim Paul Assböck, Fabian Busch, Toñi Gomis Chaparro, Alice Dwyer, Rafael Ferro, Adrian Gössel, Kristian Kiehling, Volkmar Kleinert, Roman Russo

Year: 2008

Volume: German

2008: Alex (Busch) visits his dying father Carlos (Ferro) in Buenos Aires. Towards the end of the 1970s, the Argentine military had abducted Alex's uncle, the brother of his mother Lizzie (Rivas); Lizzie, Carlos and Alex fled to West Berlin. Their new home was an open plan loft in an old factory building, which they shared with several individuals: photographer Jürgen (Assböck) and his girlfriend Anita (Chaparro), one-eyed cinematographer and womanizer Micha (Kiehling), introverted Sik (Dwyer), paraplegic con artist Günter (Kleinert) and Andrea (Russo), an aspiring film-maker and Günter's carer. Lizzie was a journalist with a busy schedule, while Carlos, a graphic artist, made a living from occasional blue-collar jobs or as a street painter. The parents' relationship suffered as Carlos was homesick for Argentina, but Lizzie decided never to return there. Carlos's affair with Anita initiated the break-up of Alex's extended family: Sik disappeared, Jürgen died in a car accident, Anita and Carlos moved to Argentina, and Günter and Andrea relocated to Italy. Fast forward to 2008 Buenos Aires: Alex sits at Carlos's deathbed and subsequently forgives him for leaving his wife and son. 


Inspired by his own biographical background, Berlin – Buenos Aires is Alejandro Cardenas-Amelio’s first feature film. The Argentine director was born in Peru in 1977 and immigrated to Germany for political reasons in the 1980s. Spatially and temporally framed by images of contemporary Buenos Aires that Alex views from a taxi window, the film delves into his childhood memories. Arriving in West Berlin – depicted as an enclave of punks, squatters and other outsiders – Alex finds an extended family among a similarly odd social mixture. The outside world enters the lives of the factory loft inhabitants only occasionally through newspapers, radio and television; an aesthetic device that dates the narrative (Helmut Kohl winning the elections in 1982, AIDS becoming a concern in West Germany, the 1986 soccer World Cup championship in Mexico). In a self-reflexive manner, Berlin – Buenos Aires conceives of film-making as a dream that one follows, a passion with visual images, or simply as a source of income. At times the space resembles a film studio or transforms into a makeshift cinema: an old projector screens Weimar film classics watched by an audience sitting on kitchen chairs in front of a screen made from bed linen. Florian Schilling's fluid camerawork supports the imaginative quality of this place.


The conflict between Carlos and Lizzie is explored in spatial terms. As the breadwinner of the family Lizzie is immersed in her work as a journalist and is therefore often absent. She has cut her ties with Argentina because of the atrocities that befell her family. Carlos, on the other hand, lives like a hermit; the house becomes his protective shell from the outside world. His predicament as an unemployed immigrant and his wife's success emasculate him, triggering his affair with Anita. In its spatial symbolism, the film can be read as a counter-example to Tevfik Başer’s Forty Square Metres of Germany (1986), where a Turkish woman is locked up by her husband in a small apartment. In Cardenas-Amelio’s film the doors are open, living space is plentiful and Carlos is expected to use it. Instead of exploring the reasons for Carlos’ homesickness and his refusal to engage with his environment, the film views the condition of the exile as a self-pitying state of mind. When a grown-up Alex returns to Buenos Aires, his estranged and disconnected feelings towards Argentina reflect the film's indifference to Carlos's cultural identity. Germany has become ‘normal’ and ‘us’, while Argentina is strange and ‘Other’. By spatially dividing ‘Germans’ and ‘Argentines’, the film reinforces cultural stereotypes as valid reasons for feeling displaced. 

Author of this review: Claudia Sandberg