TIFF 2018: Where Hands Touch

Amandla Stenberg in Where Hands Touch. Courtesy of TIFF.

Where Hands Touch is a coming of age film that brings to light the little known stories about biracial children living in Germany during World War 2.

Despite having a German-sounding name, Leyna (Amandla Stenberg) is not your typical German girl.  The teenager is the daughter of a white German mom, Kerstin (Abbie Cornish), and a black African father.  This came as a result of the French following World War 1.  Because Leyna is biracial, those in power see her as a “Rhineland bastard.”  The appropriate term is Afro-German but I’m using the term used in the film.  Kerstin does the best  she can to protect both her children, including youngest child Koen (Tom Sweet).

One day, Leyna encounters Lutz (George MacKay).  While he may be a member of the Hitler Youth organization, something is different about him.  In spite of his Nazi father Hanz (Christopher Eccleston), Lutz is different.  He appears to be the type who would rather have nothing to do with the Nazis.  He just wants to live his life as he sees fit.  The two have grown into a blossoming relationship but then poor Lutz gets shipped off.

As Leyna continues to get to know Lutz, Kerstin is doing what she can behind the scenes.  This means getting new identity papers for her daughter.  If she wants her family of three to live safely, these papers are important.  It’s a matter of life and death in this situation.

All good things must sadly come to an end.  As Koen gets forced to become a member of Hitler Youth, Kerstin gets arrested with her daughter by her side.  All because of having given birth to a biracial daughter.  Leyna takes care of her brother until she can’t do it any longer.  Next thing we know, she gets shipped off to a Labour Camp in Bavaria where it’s a true battle for survival.  Much to her surprise, Lutz was shipped off to work the camp.

It’s still impossible to believe that a man came to power some eighty years ago with the belief of what his country should look like.  If that were not enough, anyone who was different than his vision was said to have brought shame upon them.  Why does looking different mean that one shouldn’t feel pride about who they are?  It’s because of this that Where Hands Touch grips us with emotional drama.

Writer-director Amma Asante doesn’t pull back.  Asante makes sure we know who is Jewish because the camera zooms in on the yellow Magen Davids sewn onto clothing.  The JUDE signage plastered onto homes and storefronts is so visible that it isn’t even funny.  The horror of this period is very real and Asante makes sure we know it.  Anne Chmelewsky’s score hits all the right notes–heavy with strings fitting of the era.

While many of us know the Holocaust for the deaths of some 6 million Jews, it’s the other stories that go mostly untold.  Where Hands Touch tells one such story of a biracial teen in World War 2 Germany that often goes unheard.  The question that I keep going back to is this:  Was it really necessary to use a relationship with a Nazi as the film’s backdrop?  Could they have told such a story in a way that focused on Leyna without trying to humanize these people who killed Jew after Jew without any kind of mercy or remorse?  I’d like to think so.

The film’s post-script makes note of some 25,000 black Germans living in the country at the time.  They defied Hitler’s version of what Germany but while not being treated like the Jews, they were still seen as inferior.  Under the rule of the Third Reich, the biracial children were ordered to be sterilized because of who they were.

CAST:  Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Abbie Cornish, Tom Sweet, and Christopher Eccleston,

Where Hands Touch will hold its world premiere at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival in the Special Presentations program.  Vertical Entertainment & DirecTV will open Where Hands Touch in theaters on September 14, 2018.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.

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