You don't get to describe a film as a farcical socialist thriller very often, but then most films aren't like Berlin - 1st of May, a sort of anthology film following three intertwined adventures in the city of Berlin. I say "sort of" an anthology, because unlike the traditional example of the form, this isn't three short films set one next to the other, but a single sprawling narrative, with each of three directors or directing teams following one thread throughout the day, with numerous characters crossing in between, and all three ending in the same place at the same time. This all happens on International Workers' Day, basically the European equivalent to America's Labor Day, except instead of picnicking and watching movies, they're likelier to start leftist protests and riot in the streets (the irony is that the holiday is meant to commemorate an event that happened in America, the 1886 Haymarket Square massacre in Chicago).

Thus it is that Jan-Christoph Glaser and Carsten Ludwig collaborate on the misadventures of two teenagers, Jacob (Jacob Matschenz) and Pelle (Ludwig Trepte), who arrive in the city from their small provincial town with the intention of kicking ass, taking drugs and behaving as rowdy as they can; Sven Taddicken tells the story of Yavuz (Cemal Subasi), a young Turkish boy whose only goal is to use the anticipated riots as an excuse to attack a cop in retaliation for the beating his brother received the year before; and Jakob Ziemnicki is responsible for showing what happens to Uwe (Benjamin Hรถppner), a green policeman who finds it hard to focus on the events at hand, what with his wife cheating on him and all.

On the most basic level possible, this film is a disappointment. The whole point of anthology films, I'd hold, is getting to see the work of multiple directors in one shot, enjoying and comparing their different storytelling habits and aesthetic choices. But the four (three?) directors behind 1 May don't have such drastically different styles that there's much to compare, and the way the stories are all blended together tends to hide what differences might appear in things like narrative structure and mood (although it's probably safe to say that Uwe's story is the most comic, Yavuz's the most serious). For all the evidence onscreen, the film might as well have been directed by one single person, or better yet a machine designed to self-consciously remove any hint of particularly idiosyncratic filmmaking style.

Once you get beyond that - and it's not so hard to get beyond, all things considered - what remains is a largely entertaining slice-of-life misadventure tale that tries a bit too hard to present itself as a love letter to left-wing tradition (think Reds mixed with Ferris Bueller's Day Off). I'm all for left-wing cinema, mind you, but it's never worked into the film very well, and at times - as when Yavuz hides out from the cops in the apartment of crusty old socialist Harry (Peter Kurth) - it feels like the whole film has just ground to a stop in order to present us with a little instructional vignette. Dynamic filmmaking it's not.

In the main, though, it's a bright, fast-paced jaunt through the city, taking itself just serious enough that its occasional flashes of violence are genuinely shocking but not mood-killing. Filmed guerilla-style on the streets of Berlin during the real May Day, the film certainly feels lively, and by focusing largely on young people (it's probably not an accident that Uwe's story is given the least amount of time, or that it's the least interesting when we get to see it), the film achieves for itself a somewhat-earned feeling of "anything goes" vivacity, the sense of wonder we get the first time we really see a big city in all its grandeur. Coasting on energy alone isn't really enough to keep the film from getting a bit laggy near the end, when it becomes clear that the stories are mostly going to run out of time rather than reach a conclusion. But until that point, it's a pleasant pseudo-intellectual divertissement.

By the same token, it's the kind of film that really doesn't hang around in the mind for very long, and the kind that's all but doomed to the festival circuit ghetto. As a palate-cleanser between more demanding movies, it's perfect, but there's just not enough substance to the movie, despite its best efforts, to really justify itself. Nor is it so delightfully entertaining that I can imagine anybody wanting to see it over and over again. But it's a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half, and if by some chance, a person went to see it and came out primed to spent some time digging into the deeper mysterious of left-wing thought, so much the better.

7/10