Where Hands Touch

 

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Amma Asante’s latest film explores unfamiliar aspects of life in the Third Reich.

 
Where Hands Touch   

Amandla Stenberg and George MacKay

 

Here we have a film of excellent intentions and excellent performances which nevertheless suffers from misjudgments in the writing. It is the work of writer/director Amma Asante and is very much in line with its two immediate predecessors. Here as in Belle (2013) and A United Kingdom (2016) Asante offers a tale in a period setting taken from real life and willingly incorporates a love story, be it central or secondary, as part of the mainstream appeal that she seeks. But in all three cases her admirable central aim is to spotlight black history likely to be unfamiliar to her audience. Where Hands Touch is different only in that its reality lies in its portrait of life in Germany in 1944 while the characters who illustrate these truths are fictional.

 

The title chosen may sound sentimental, but the film is not. The horrors of the Third Reich are made absolutely clear, the ruthless persecution of the Jews stressed long before we reach the labour camp which is the setting for the film’s second half. This emphasis refutes suggestions that some have made that Where Hands Touch romanticises the Nazis. The source for this notion, false as it is, must be the fact that the film’s 15-year-old heroine, Leyna (Amandla Stenberg), a girl with a German mother (Abbie Cornish) but fathered by a Senegalese soldier, falls for a young German. This is Lutz (George Mackay): he is the son of an officer (Christopher Eccleston) who believes in adopting a mask of conformity in order to survive in Hitler’s Germany. No surprise, then, that this man’s son is a member of the Hitler Youth, but it is also made clear that Lutz is genuinely keen to fight for his country. These facts make the love story uncomfortable certainly, but the couple’s actions built on impulsive attraction are a believable defiance of Nazi attitudes which oppose any fraternisation with people of colour.

 

There is, however, a miscalculation here since, despite the fact that Leyna is a teenager, the harsh realities of her position are so apparent that it makes it difficult to accept her unqualified declarations of love for Germany and her lack of any expressed doubts about having a relationship with somebody in Lutz’s position, however appealing he may be in other respects. If this undermines belief in the initial narrative, the film’s second half also has a problem. The plotting - such as the way in which characters turn up at key moments - is of the kind that would be quite acceptable in a melodrama but, although Asante’s sincerity is not in doubt, these elements feel unworthy when set in the context of the Holocaust.

 

These reservations are not unimportant, but the film does cover unfamiliar ground in revealing the situation of people like Leyna and her mother in the Third Reich. Furthermore, Asante is now sufficiently experienced as a filmmaker to sustain a work lasting two hours or so and she obtains impressive performances. Cornish and Eccleston provide strong support, but it is the youngsters who shine. Mackay, always very reliable, does extremely well in a role not easy to play and Stenberg, so assured in The Hate U Give (2018), brings to the film’s pivotal role what can only be described as star quality.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Abbie Cornish, Christopher Eccleston, Olivia Vinall, Tom Goodman-Hill, Alec Newman, Will Attenborough, Hermione Gulliford, Tom Sweet, Tim Faraday.

 

Dir Amma Asante, Pro Charlie Hanson, Screenplay Amma Asante, Ph Remi Adefarasin, Pro Des Arwel Jones, Ed Steve Singleton, Music Anne Chemelewsky, Costumes Pam Downe.

 

British Film Company/Head Gear Films/Metrol Technology/Pinewood Pictures/BFI-Spirit Entertainment.
122 mins. UK. 2018. Rel: 10 May 2019. Cert. 12A.