REVIEW: Where Hands Touch

Year: 2018
Directed by: Amma Asante
Cast: Abbie Cornish, Amandla Stenberg, George MacKay, Christopher Eccleston

Written by Fiona Underhill

British director Amma Asante has prioritised telling the stories of black and mixed-race characters in period films during her career so far – a genre where they often they are over-looked and ignored. Her breakthrough feature Belle starred Gugu Mbatha-Raw as a real-life historical figure in 18th century period costume and stately homes – which is a setting that is usually dominated by white actors on British television and in film. Her follow up A United Kingdom was set in the 1950s and starred David Oyelowo as the King of Botswana who falls in love with a white British woman. Now comes Where Hands Touch and stars Amandla Stenberg as a mixed-race German girl who falls in love with the son of a Nazi officer. Asante has shown herself to be an empathetic filmmaker, exploring the nuances of situations where characters struggle with their identities.

Twelve years in the making, this has been very much a passion project for Asante, involving a lot of historical research into the 25,000 people of colour who lived in Nazi Germany. This film focuses on those who were known as the ‘Rhineland Bastards’ and were the result of French soldiers of African descent being in that area during WWI. Leyna (Stenberg) is the product of one such union between a soldier and her mother (played by Bright Star’s Abbie Cornish). She has a younger brother who is white and as a result, Leyna feels very much the odd-one-out. Although she is happy and mostly accepted in her small community in the Rhineland, things are becoming increasingly dangerous. Her mother knows that if the Nazis come looking for Jewish people and find Leyna, they will probably just cart her away as well. Her mother believes that they will be able to disappear in Berlin, only to find that the big city brings its own problems.

Leyna must carry false papers with her, stating she has been sterilised (to prevent her mixing with white Germans). However, she meets and falls in love with Lutz (George MacKay), whose father (played by Christopher Eccleston) is a high-ranking Nazi. George MacKay has impressed me in Pride and Captain Fantastic and he does well again here, portraying a ‘gung-ho’ wannabe soldier, eager to get the front and join in the real fight. However, there is obviously another side to him, shown through the sensitive portrayal of his tender romance with Leyna. Amandla Stenberg was recently seen in Everything Everything with Nick Robinson and will soon be starring in The Hate U Give. She gives a fantastic performance here as a young woman, struggling to find her place in the world.

There has been some controversy surrounding this film – that it is insensitive to show a romance (which includes a Nazi soldier) against the backdrop of the Holocaust. This film does not ignore the Holocaust, but it does choose to focus more on a little-known aspect of the war, portraying a minority that did exist and most people would not have considered before. Also, I can understand, in our current times, why portraying a sympathetic Nazi is problematic. However, I think it is realistic to show how easily a German teenager could be brainwashed into believing the propaganda he has been fed, whilst also retaining his humanity and being capable of loving a mixed-race girl. The evil is an external pressure, rather than inherent within him. It also contrasts Lutz with his father, who is jaded due to having lived through WWI. However, his father still carries out despicable orders to save his own skin. This film does not present the issues as black-and-white, the characters are complex and flawed, but that does not mean you can’t feel something for them. It is Leyna’s relationship with her mother (and her own identity) that is perhaps the most moving aspect of the film though.

I believe this filmmaker, these actors and this story deserves your support, so if you are able to find Where Hands Touch in a movie theater near you, give it a chance. It is on selected release in the US now, UK release date is to be confirmed.

Fiona’s Verdict:

4

 

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The Secret of Marrowbone

Year: 2018
Directed by: Sergio G. Sánchez
Cast: George MacKay, Anya Taylor-Joy, Charlie Heaton, Kyle Soller, Mia Goth, Matthew Stagg

Written by Tom Sheffield

The Secret of Marrowbone was released in UK cinemas earlier this month and if I’m being honest, I haven’t really heard much about it anywhere. I went into the film only having seen the first trailer (some time ago I might add) and wasn’t really sure what to expect. Sometimes I like to head to the cinema and watch a film I haven’t seen or read anything about because going in with no expectations can really make for some special surprises!

Set in 1969, the film focuses on four British children who flee to American with their mother, who then exile themselves from the rest of their town following the death of their Mother due to the fact they live in fear that someone is chasing them down – something that is explored throughout the film. Their self-exile is to ensure the authorities don’t split the family up as they wait for the eldest sibling, Jack (MacKay), to turn 21 and become a legal adult. Jack does his best to look after his 19-year-old sister, Jane (Goth), 18-year-old Billy (Heaton), and the youngest of the siblings, 5-year-old Sam (Stagg), but tensions rise between Billy and Jack as the exile begins to take its toll. The Marrowbone children make a friend not long after their arrival in America, local girl Allie (Taylor-Joy), but she doesn’t know much about the family or their situation and so is left to piece together their story through hearsay and trying to get Jack to open up to her. The families self-exile appears to be going swimmingly until a bullet pierces a window, which narrowly misses Jane, and she lets out an almighty scream for Jack and then… the film jumps forward to the following Summer.

This jump feels quite jarring at first until the film progresses and the events we seem to have skipped are slowly pieced together through shared dialogue between the siblings. The children all seem to have put that event out of their minds and we see them carry about their day-to-day lives living in their old, creeky house. Jack is the only one who leaves the premises, and he does so to sell homemade baked treats to a local store and get books for Sam, who is obviously homeschooled. We then learn through Sam that he thinks there’s a ‘ghost’ in the attic, and this is where the supernatural undertones become prevalent, with lots of weird occurrences around the house, and we learn the children have taken measures to keep the ghost at bay, with one tactic being to cover or hide every single mirror in the house. Delving any further into the story would spoil the incoming surprises, so I shall say no more!

George MacKay gives an exceptional performance as Jack. As the eldest child, his siblings rely on him for just about everything and you can really feel the weight of that responsibility on his shoulders. But it’s not until the third act that MacKay really blew me away for reasons I can’t delve into because it would be way too spoilery – but once you get to the final half hour of the film, you’ll see for yourselves what I mean. Anya Taylor-Joy also delivers another outstanding performance but that’s really no surprise after seeing her in The Witch, Split, and Thoroughbreds. She continues to be an exciting talent who we should all be keeping an eye on, and I’m excited to see her as Magik in New Mutants when it finally releases (if it stops getting pushed back!). The rest of the cast also deserve love and praise for their respective roles. especially Stagg who is a frequent scene-stealer from his older co-stars.

It’s clear to see what Sánchez was aiming for with The Secret of Marrowbone, luring the audience into thinking they know where the plot is going before he throws a game-changing twist into the mix, but in the end, it just comes off like the film fails to settle on a tone. Admittedly, it takes some mulling over afterwards to really appreciate the story, and I think I would really benefit from a second viewing knowing what awaits at the end- so I look forward to picking it up on Blu-ray when it’s released. Tone aside, I really loved what Sánchez did here, and whilst it’s nothing new in the world of horror/thriller/mystery films, it was still a surprise to watch the events unfold how they did.

Xavi Giménez’s stunning cinematography really captures the how isolated the family are and how claustrophobic the whole situation makes them feel. There are some stunning shots of the surrounding fields, cliffs and beaches, but it’s the scenes inside the house that were my favourite. The house is fairly large, as are the numerous rooms it holds, but a large number of scenes are close-ups of the characters, making the rooms feel small and formulating that underlying sense of claustrophobia that the Marrowbones must be feeling. It’s the little details that really make the largest impact in this film, and that’s even more reason for me to watch it again so I can try to pick up on things I might have missed.

The Secret of Marrowbone kept me guessing right until the very end, and I’m sat here a whole week later still thinking about it. The young cast have a wonderful chemistry which gives the story the heart and emotion Sánchez was clearly aiming for. I would definitely recommend seeking this film out when you can, but don’t set any expectations for it and just let the story unfold.

Tom’s Rating:

4