FF2012: 'Combat Girls'
Aryan youthquake, blood and dishonor at Fantastic Fest
By Marc Savlov, 7:39AM, Sun. Sep. 23, 2012
There have been enough films made depicting varying facets of skinhead subculture that they by now represent a sub-genre unto themselves. The viscerally over-the-edge Combat Girls, though, is the first to focus exclusively on female protagonists caught up in the whirlwind of hate.
Geoffrey Wright's 1992 tour de force Romper Stomper had a believably schizoid female lead in the person of Jacqueline McKenzie's mad little rich girl Gabe, but that film was owned, heart and soullessness, by Russell Crowe's steely-evil Hando. It was, in essence, a portrait of an invasive and malignant form of self-replicating nationalistic racism in Aussie (and by extension, all) youth culture.
That Combat Girls is a German-made film dealing with the ongoing allure of that country's grimly resonating past gives it an emotional wallop missing from – or tawdrily exploited by – other youth-in-revolt offerings. And it seems more than contemporary, given the EU's slo-mo meltdown and the rise of the dark right here in our own "homeland."
Ripped from the headlines is more like it, and director David Wnendt (in his feature debut) give the whole thing a rough, brutal knife-edge of a teenage emo nightmare. It's frightening as much for what it says about how the usual perils of adolescence can be perverted as it what is tells us about the predator/prey, older male/younger female relationships can lead to when shot through with a deeply corrupting albeit vague political fervor. And, too, it's a powerful tale of crushing loneliness.
Twenty year-old Marisa (Alina Levshin, in a word, fantastic) works in her mother's supermarket in some nameless East German backwater. She's been an "Aryan Skin Girl" (as the prominent ink carved across her shoulder blades attests to) for most of her young life. An opening flashback featuring a tween Marisa toting a rucksack full of sand into the welcoming arms of her twisted grandfather establishes a fuzzy sort of motive; pederasty appears to be the warped key to her mental manacles.
Fourteen year old Svenja (Jella Haase) is the new wannabe in town. She falls in with Marisa and is taken under the elder skinchick's close-cropped wing. A born misfit with enough teen angst to rebuild the Berlin Wall from the mortar up, Svenja's the permanent outsider from a chaotic home. It's the naturalistic bond between these two that makes Combat Girls the doomy marvel it is, and, as director Wnendt unspools their tale – in which Marisa finds a strange sympathizer in a Pakistani orphan and thus her downfall – with zero false notes. Take away the Nazi imagery and this could be the tale to any two girls falling into, and trying to escape from, the hell of being young. Fantastic Fest presents Combat Girls, D: Wnendt, 100 mins., Thursday, Sept 17, 3pm.