Details: (MA15+), 103 mins, Germany,
Synopsis: Marisa, a 20-year-old German girl, hates foreigners, Jews, authorities, and everyone else she blames for the decline of her country. She agitates, drinks, fights and plans to memorialise Adolf Hitler in her next tattoo. She takes a 14-year-old undr her wing in the neo-Nazi group she calls home. However, Marisa's accidental encounter with a young Afghan refugee challenges her convictions, and threatens her position in the group.
Echoes of Romper Stomper in this examination of the politics of rage.
GERMAN FILM FESTIVAL: David Wnendt’s Combat Girls is a movie of explosive moments and quiet consideration. In the compelling lead performance of Alina Levshin, as a hardened, rage-soaked female member of a loose knit group of young neo-Nazis dominated by her extremist boyfriend, it has a roiling focus that’s unusually nuanced. Levshin’s Marisa is as much at war with herself as the rest of Germany and its history, and there’s no simple division between her initial actions and the redemptive actions that follow; she doesn’t suddenly change course and become noble, she remains angry and violent even as her beliefs crumble.
The setting is the former East Germany, where fading Communist-era propaganda art still dots the public housing estates where asylum seekers and immigrants are in conflict with the young packs of nationalist extremists. This is a Germany where each generation goes to the limit – middle-aged Marxists share houses with their Hitler-obsessed children – and a feeling of powerlessness is pervasive. Wnendt doesn’t explain the causes, although the environment makes much clear, but from the opening rampage on a train, when Marisa and her bullish boyfriend, Sandro (Gerdy Zint), escalate from being a nuisance to assaulting a young Asian couple, their rage dwarfs philosophy.
Combat Girls begins on a beach, with a young Marisa being coached by her beloved grandfather, who politically indoctrinated her, and it’s a reminder that beside the sea was where Romper Stomper ended. There are echoes of Geoffrey Wright’s film here, particularly in the acknowledgment of lording power over others acting as a sexual spur – Marisa and Sandro are fierce lovers after the train attack, although armed police are soon through the door to arrest him, leaving a void in her life.
The picture also captures how extremism can be emblematic to the young. 15-year-old Svenja (Jella Haase) comes from a middle-class home, complete with an understanding mother, but once an associate of Sandro’s introduces her to the gang she increasingly revels in the freedom it gives her. The girl screams at foreigners and gives the Hitler salute to strangers, and it’s simply a matter of rebelling. Haase still has her baby fat, and for Svenja’s naivete Marisa initially has scorching disdain and then grudging feelings of protection.
Wnendt alternates bursts of corrosive energy with the sullen aftermath – he goes from the moshpit at a house party blasting right wing hardcore to the morning after, and even when he has a contrary figure in the form of young Afghan asylum seeker Rasul (Sayed Ahmad) enter Marisa’s life, he doesn’t indulge exposition. Marisa and Rasul, who wants to get to Sweden, can barely communicate even if they wanted to, but she senses that she must make amends after previously attacking the boy and his friend. Several times the director holds long close-ups on Levshin’s face, and that’s where moral debates are played out, as pleasure and pain and recrimination and defiance are essayed on her expressive features.
Edward Norton gave a frighteningly memorable performance as a neo-Nazi skinhead who eventually reforms in 1998’s American History X, but Tony Kaye’s movie was both stylistically extravagant and narratively simplistic. Norton’s Derek was bad and then good, but in Combat Girls Marisa uses violence in her unspoken quest to move Svenja and Rasul on, and part of it is motivated by revenge for where her life has taken her. Helping others isn’t a way of saving herself, it’s an acknowledgment that for Marisa there’s already no way out.
From The Movie Show archives:
Romper Stomper review (in which David refused to rate it)
American History X review
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