Where Hands Touch
Built around historical events, this deeply moving coming-of-age drama depicts the harrowing ordeals of 15-year-old Afro-German Leyna. The very existence of the young protagonist, who is referred to by the ruling Nazi regime as a “Rhineland Bastard” for having a white German mother and an African soldier father, becomes a target of racial hatred and sexual persecution within the brutality of Berlin in 1944.
Her devoted mother Kirstin, fiercely portrayed by an outstanding Abbie Cornish (Seven Psychopaths, Jack Ryan) strives to keep her daughter and small son safe during the legalised savageries of war, but when Leyna meets Lutz, a member of the Hitler Youth (mandatory for all Aryan boys since 1936) and the son of an SS officer (a delicate delivery from Christopher Dr Who Eccleston), their irresistible attraction and subsequent love threatens everything.
The pair’s teenage romance unfolds at a natural pace and whilst their chaotic worlds couldn’t be further apart their connection feels authentic, so your empathy is entwined with their innocent desire to simply be together and love freely, a universal plight of many forbidden couples throughout the ages.
Fragments of this complex tale are a little uneven, but the genuine peril and believable chemistry of our star-crossed lovers George MacKay (Sunshine on Leith, Captain Fantastic) and a heart-wrenching Amandla Stenberg (Hunger Games, The Hate U Give) manages to keep the story on track and you find your hands clenched and heart in your mouth as the danger and cruelty increases.
As with her previous films, writer-director Amma Asante MBE (Belle, A United Kingdom) has looked to history, highlighting a lesser known interracial corner of WW2 and whilst the life of Leyna is fiction, the facts of the Holocaust and inhumane barbarism of “non-pure” races are tragically not.
Where Hands Touch has been accused of glorifying and romanticising Nazism, however Asante’s masterful handling of that heinous time period clearly demonstrates the exact opposite, with some scenes too sickening and heartbreaking to watch.
The helpless injustice and horrific, hostile environment are palpable throughout, combining dehumanising ethnic scapegoating and authorised atrocities with food shopping, schooling and street rallies, alluring glazed-eyed fundamentals gleefully flying their flags in Berlin’s propaganda-fueled new normal.
The careful presentation of this multi-tonal landscape – from those people trapped within an all-powerful, vicious regime simply fighting to survive to those revelling in the slaughter and their ability to humiliate and execute fellow citizens at will – is hard-hitting and resonates deeply. This insightful historical drama never even ventures into the realms of glamourising or endorsing the terror of the Third Reich; instead, it champions the endurance of the human spirit and the powerful beauty of love as it finds a way to grow even in the harshest of conditions.
Where Hands Touch is released in select cinemas on 10th May 2019.