Not the Same Old Nazi War Story

Amandla Stenberg gives a nuanced and emotional performance as Leyna. She continues to grow with each role and shows that she is one of the most promising actors of her generation. If her work here is any indication, she should have a seamless transition to adult roles.

The biracial daughter of a white German mother and a black African father struggles for survival in Nazi Germany during World War II.

Cast: Amandla Stenberg (Leyna), George MacKay (Lutz), Abbie Cornish (Kerstin), Christopher Eccleston, Tom Sweet

Amandla Stenberg in a scene aboard a train from "Where Hands Touch." (© Tantrum Films)

Amandla Stenberg in a scene aboard a train from “Where Hands Touch.” (© Tantrum Films)

It’s a dangerous place for Leyna (Amandla Stenberg) a teenager living in the Rhineland area of Western Germany. She is the product of an interracial relationship between Kerstin (Abbie Cornish), her white German mother and her black French-speaking African father. Based on her maternal ancestry, Leyna has full German citizenship – on paper. However, it’s 1944 in the middle of World War II and the Nazis are making life miserable for a biracial girl and her family (which includes her white brother played by Tom Sweet).

Things are getting so bad that Kirsten must hide Leyna so that she will not be subjected to sterilization. Kirsten decides to move the family to Berlin in the hopes that they will be less conspicuous there. Unfortunately, in their new home Leyna is subject to harassment by teachers and classmates alike.

Leyna does however meet a young man, Lutz (George MacKay), the sensitive son of a Nazi official (Christopher Eccleston). Leyna and Lutz become friends and with the help of his dad’s Billie Holiday album, much more.

The little ray of sunshine in Leyna’s life, gradually dims. She is forced to leave school and must work in a factory with her mother. Before long, her mother is sent away and Leyna is sent to a work camp where she endures even more cruelty at the hands of the Nazis.

George MacKay and Amandla Stenberg in a scene from "Where Hands Touch." (© Tantrum Films)

George MacKay and Amandla Stenberg in a scene from “Where Hands Touch.” (© Tantrum Films)

Amandla Stenberg gives a nuanced and emotional performance as Leyna. She continues to grow with each role and shows that she is one of the most promising actors of her generation. If her work here is any indication, she should have a seamless transition to adult roles.

Amma Asante’s direction is solid with strong performances from not only Stenberg, but the rest of the cast. She has however made a few missteps with her screenplay. The development of Leyna and Lutz’s relationship feels rushed. There’s also several coincidences and plot developments in the story that appear solely for convenience rather than based on logic. As a result, the film falls short of her previous work including her commercial and critical success, “Belle.”

From a technical standpoint, the film is top notch. Remi Adefarasin’s cinematography is superb. The editing, production design and costumes are also first-rate. This is most evident in the latter part of the film, where all of the various technical and creative elements shine.

“Where Hands Touch” does not suffer for lack of ambition. The experience of biracial children offers a fresh perspective on a familiar war story. While the film avoids many clichés of Nazi war stories, elements of the plot and certain aspects character development may be difficult for some audiences to shallow. While it’s quite believable that Leyna might be naïve to the crueler aspects of Nazism, it’s hard to accept that she would fall as easily into a romantic relationship with Lutz as an ordinary teenage girl. She may not be fully aware of what the Nazis are doing to the Jews, but she certainly knows the cruel things that they are doing to her and her family. When Leyna finally realizes the depths of Nazi cruelty and inhumanity, it is long after the audience.

While not up to the level of her previous work, Asante has nonetheless crafted a disturbing and thought-provoking film.

“Where Hands Touch” was released nationally by Vertical Entertainment on Friday, September 14th.

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