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DVD Watch: Combat Girls

The dark shadow of a post-Hitler youth, plus new releases
Richard Whittaker, 4:40pm, Wed. Jul. 10, 2013

It's hard to understand why anyone would become a neo-Nazi. But to be a neo-Nazi in Germany – a nation that will bare the fetid scar of the reich on its soul for centuries – is so much more disturbing.

Combat Girls (Kriegerin) begins with a young girl trying to please her grandfather by running along a steel-grey German beach, laden down with a sand-crammed back pack. Marisa (Alina Levshin) is being trained to be tough, but when she becomes a young woman, she has become something worse. The skin head haircut will grow out, but the eagle tattoo on her chest (reminiscent of the swastika carved into Edward Norton's flesh in American History X) will not be so easy to remove.

Marisa is a happy outcast, working days in her mother's convenience store where she blithely refuses to serve non-white customers. At night, she hangs out with her fellow racists, and that's where she runs 15 year old Svenja (Jella Haase.) A Marisa in training, for her hanging out with the least cool cool kids ever is an act of teen rebellion, even cooler than smoking behind her father's back. Finding some escape from her draconian father, she finds it in the fascist gang, sat around, getting their world view from racist bands and Goebbels-era news reels. When she jokingly and innocently puts on a rubber Hitler mask, it's disturbing enough: But in the context of German law and German culture, it's a literally criminal act.

We've been here before, with both Romper Stomper and American History X giving regionalised versions of the same story. Honestly, Combat Girls' denouement – a moment foretold in an opening flashforward – owes a little too much to both. But it has undeniable significance because of geography. For a nation that went through an entire process of de-Nazification, that outlawed the symbols and concepts of Hitler's fetid inheritance, to see the fascist racist right grow post-reunification is a bundle of nightmares welded back together.

The political stakes have been elevated in modern Germany as a destination for economic and political migrants. That's how Rasul (Sayed Ahmad Wasil Mrowat), an Afgan orphan, washes up on its shores and ends up in Marissa's deadly orbit. But, in an unexpected approach, writer/director David Wendt is less interested in the geopolitics of racial and cultural diversity in contemporary Europe, than a much more intimate tale of broken families. There is an underlying theme of absentee father figures, with Rasul, Svenja, Marisa and even her mother Bea (Rosa Enskat) all contending with the gaps in their lives.

Levshin picked up the AMD Next Wave Award for best actress at Fantastic Fest 2012, and presents Marissa as a bundle of contradictions: Sometimes seeming to soften the impact of her gang, sometimes its most vindictive member. There's an undeniable intensity that powers many of the events, and it makes it easy to overlook Anne Laszus' much smaller but haunting role as Melanie, the over-looked and abandoned shadow in waiting of the group. It occasionally feels like the rest of the cast, as is are waiting to come into her orbit. But Wendt's keen eye for the dispossessed, shown without grandeur or grand narrative, creates a small, tragic narrative.


Combat Girls (Artsploitation) is available now on DVD and Blu-ray: Read our Fantastic Fest review here. Also available this week:

Admission Tina Fey's first big post-30 Rock project. Seriously. Remember when Staurday Night Live cast members just did a shitty job of converting SNL skits into movies? Now they're just doing shitty movies. Seriously, we'd almost rather watch Tracy Jordan in Garfield 3: Feline Groovy (Read our review here.)

Spring Breakers (Lionsgate) Harmony Korine makes the strangest Disney summer vacation movie ever (Read our review here.)

The Host (Universal) Stephanie Meyer wasn't creepy enough writing about stalker vampires. Now she does aliens. Read our review here.

Dead Man Down (Sony) Wrestling behemoth the WWE keeps trying to break into cinema: This time, Colin Farrell tries to keep the gangster action going (read our review here.)

The Legend of Korra Book 1: Air (Nickelodeon) Short synopsis: Avatar: The Last Airbender is the best piece of kids TV in the last decade. Possibly TV, period. The long-awaited sequel to the astonishing animation picks up with the descendent of Aang getting to grips with her powers anew.

Frontline: Never Forget to Lie (PBS) Polish-born documentarian Marian Marzynski unleashes his most personal examination of the Holocaust yet: An autobiographical discussion of his life as a Jewish boy raised in secret by Christians.

Robot Chicken: DC Comics Special (Cartoon Network) The notoriously litigious comics company allows Adult Swim's action figure satirists

Trek Nation (MPI) Eugene "Son of Gene" Rodenberry examines the Star Trek legacy.

Warehouse 13 Season 4 (Universal) SyFy's fan fave seekers of the weird and uncanny put the pieces of the Warehouse back together after the heart-rending end of season 3. For a series that began with a good dose of whacky hi-jinks, this season has become an emotional rollercoaster, with truly amazing performances from Saul Rubinek as surly Artie and Allison Scagliotti as misfit genius Claudia.

Would You Rather? (MPI) Let's just say that most movies based on games don't involve Sasha Grey and murderous wagers.

Portlandia Season 3 (Video Service Corps) Christmas, power outages and the return of Mayor Kyle MacLachlan! The second coolest celebrity fake mayor after Adam West!

The Life of Oharu (Criterion) Kenji Mizoguchi's tender and mesmerizing depiction of class, gender and sexual politics in feudal Japan.

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