Where Hands Touch
Coming Soon On-Demand 17 July 2019
Award-winning filmmaker Amma Asante (Belle) directs Amandla Stenberg (The Hate U Give) in this story of a bi-racial teen struggling for survival in Nazi Germany.
"Rudesheim, the Rhineland, 1944. Lenya (Stenberg) has come of age during the chaos of war. Her mother (Abbie Cornish) has done her best to protect Lenya, but the racist credo of National Socialism has rendered her a pariah for the colour of her skin. Yet youthful ardour can bloom in the most unlikely places: Lenya is in love with Lutz (George MacKay), a young Nazi. Lutz toes the party line when it comes to antisemitism yet remains drawn to Lenya despite Nazi revulsion at the thought of a Black German. When that revulsion escalates to direct threat to her survival, Lenya and Lutz must face the seemingly inevitable outcome of their impossibly fraught romance." (Toronto International Film Festival)
- Amma Asante('A Way of Life', 'A United Kingdom', 'Belle')
Drama, Romance, War, Historical
Rating: M Violence, sex scenes & nudity
This is not a gentle coming together of two people as the title might suggest but a love story darker than a Grimm’s fairy tale. In Hitler’s Germany of 1944, mixed race Leyna (Amandla Stenberg)—a target for sterilisation by Nazis preventing the "pollution" of the Aryan race—falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), a member of the Hitler Youth and son of an SS officer. Despite being warned that their liaison poses the utmost danger to themselves and their families by both Leyna’s mother and Lutz’s father they continue to meet.
The two are temporarily separated when Lutz joins the army and Leyna is taken away to a labour camp where the conditions are horrific. The ashes of the bodies of Jews burnt in the gas ovens float copiously over the fence from the adjacent concentration camp. When Lutz, who would much rather be a frontline soldier fighting for the Fatherland, is also assigned there, the two star-crossed lovers meet again albeit in very different roles, one a victim the other a perpetrator.
Casting Amandla Stenberg as Leyna in the starring role was an excellent choice. In real life this young actress is a passionate activist for racial and gay rights. In the movie her transformation from a naïve black teenager who struggles to come to terms with the fact that her country has turned against her into a much more worldly wise labour camp inmate rings true. Despite inhuman and degrading treatment, her sense of self-worth is never completely destroyed.
George MacKay as Lutz too plays his part well, first as a head-over-heels-in-love teenager, full of patriotism and wanting to fight for the fatherland. Then later, a deeply disillusioned young man who has to face brutal realities in the labour camp.
Abbie Cornish as Leyna’s mother and Christopher Eccleston as Lutz’s father both play minor roles so there is little room for character development. Leyna’s mother will go to any lengths to protect her daughter. But Lutz’s father is no hero. Although against Hitler’s war what drives him is self-preservation. So he hides his views and, despicably, continues to play an active part in this brutal regime as a senior SS officer.
Where Hands Touch is another of black British female director and writer Amma Asante’s historical dramas about little known stories which deserve to be told.
Although she did a considerable amount of research before creating this movie she has been widely criticised for not accurately reflecting how 25000 “Rhineland bastards’ (children of Aryan mothers and African soldiers like Leyla) were persecuted in Nazi Germany. Turning this into a love story between a Hitler youth and a mixed race girl is just too far from reality.
But Where Hands Touch does succeed as a cautionary tale for today’s world in which white supremacy is once more on the rise. Even New Zealand, as the recent Christchurch massacre showed, is not immune from its horrific consequences.
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
An eyeopening film that adds to what we knew about Nazi Germany, but falls short in the final act
Amandla Stenberg really likes her political movies. With The Hate U Give having come out earlier this year (which looked at modern-day police oppression against the black community in the United States), Where Hands Touch showcases that same oppressive nature back further to the 1940s during World War II Germany.
Where Hands Touch is a close-up look at the after-effects of World War I, the results of the interbreeding that occurred while soldiers were stationed in occupied countries. Specifically, the film looks at what are known as the "Rhineland Bastards", a derogatory term for Afro-Germans fathered by French soldiers of African descent while stationed in the occupied Rhineland. The bi-racial children born from those couplings became targets for Hitler and the Nazis who were striving for a “pure” Germany and saw this introduction of African blood as a contamination of the pure Aryan bloodlines.
Following Leyna (played by Amandla Stenberg), an African/German bi-racial child who, born and raised in Germany has immense pride in a country that does not reciprocate, the audience watches as she falls for a young boy from the Hitler Youth and they are both invariably drawn into war.
The timing of this release is quite odd, with the rise in Alt-Right and Neo-Nazi movements at present. So to have a film that effectively romanticizes and humanizes members of this fascist group, it’s needless to say, a little unsettling to see this notion that “good” people were involved in this regime that massacred millions of Jews, minorities, and people with disabilities. The decision to take the direction of a romance at all is intriguing, though is surprisingly popular these days; where an oppressed woman falls in love with her oppressor, in some Stockholm syndrome fiasco.
Ignoring all of the choices in script direction, the romance is well constructed and is reminiscent of the schoolyard crushes that can develop into something more. With beautiful blue skies and beams of light shooting through the forested areas, there is a warmth and intimacy that envelopes the two. Stenberg absolutely crushes it with performance in all of the positive aspects of the film. The devoted sister and daughter, the reckless lover, she has a youthfulness and naivety that really brings her character to life.
Unfortunately, when the tone of the film is meant to shift, the cinematography style and Stenberg’s performance fail to change with it. In an environment that is meant to feel hostile and inhospitable, scenes are shot with an air of wonder, and it takes away from the impact of what we are really seeing on screen. The period set designs and costuming looks authentic, but the emotions and gravity of the situation are not so genuine. It feels more like a bad day at work, and not a life or death situation during a war.
As far as set-up and character development, Where Hands Touch does a brilliant job. You really feel like you are in Berlin during World War II, and in the second act you can really feel the tension as the Nazi’s begin to close in, but the third act doesn’t carry that emotional awareness on. It was intriguing to learn that Hitler had a form of hierarchy of hatred, where some minority groups had a form of ranking, but again the threat was not genuinely there for our protagonist. Beautifully set-up, with a youthful romance story, but it faltered in the final act and left me underwhelmed.