Like all teenagers, 15-year-old Leyna just wants to belong; but for a biracial child growing up amidst the violence and chaos of Hitler’s Germany that is an impossible dream.
Written and directed by Amma Asante, ‘Where Hands Touch’ is a coming-of-age story about one girl’s struggle to find her place in a country whose leaders despise her existence. Set in 1944 and inspired by the atrocities committed against people of colour by Hitler’s Third Reich, the film is a poignant exploration of race, identity, family and patriotism which shines a light on the (perhaps) lesser-known victims of the Holocaust.
Amandla Stenberg delivers an emotionally-charged performance as Leyna; a young girl forced to re-examine her own sense of identity in the face of growing persecution. Outside of her blossoming acting career Amandla is fast establishing herself as an activist for women’s rights and racial equality and she is clearly drawing on her passions for both in this latest role. Her heartfelt performance and ability to switch effortlessly between emotional extremes allows her to capture the strength, vulnerability and determination of her character and it is impossible to fault her performance.
George MacKay is superb as Leyna’s love interest Lutz – the son of a high ranking SS officer and leader in the Hitler Youth Program. Given his backstory one could be forgiven for thinking that Lutz exists solely as a way to bring a superficial (and somewhat clichéd) sense of conflict to the film but nothing could be further from the truth. As their relationship blossoms Lutz finds himself waging an inner war between the ideologies he holds dear and his growing feelings for Leyna and George does a fantastic job of bringing this complex character to life. His emotional performance raises questions about the ideals of patriotism and free will and despite his misguided beliefs I couldn’t help but cheer for young Lutz as he evolved before my eyes.
Stern faced Abbie Cornish shines as Leyna’s mother Kerstin, delivering a powerful performance which stands as a testament to the power of a mother’s love and the natural chemistry between herself and Amandla adds a real sense of authenticity to their roles. Christopher Eccleston rounds off the powerhouse cast as Lutz’s father Heinz, a man who, like his son, is torn between his country and his heart. Eccleston’s riveting performance paints a picture of man caught in an unimaginable situation and despite everything he stands for and everything he does I found it hard to completely hate Heinz (a testament to Christopher’s acting ability).
Writer/Director Amma’s evocative storytelling creates a rich world full of emotionally complex characters and her ability to weave multiple themes together creates a thought-provoking story which will tug at your heartstrings. Drab grey and brown costumes highlight the depressing mood of wartime Germany and illustrate the segregation forced upon its residents; while a handful of special effects create crumbling buildings and war time air raids.
‘Where Hands Touch’ is now playing exclusively at Palace Nova Eastend (Adelaide).