In Combat Girls (the new German import written and directed by David Wnendt), Nazism is alive and well and living in Germany (well, at least the Neo- kind), but I guess that’s not really a surprise to anyone, which is perhaps the main issue with this film. As heartfelt and earnest as it is, I’m not convinced that it really tells us anything refreshing and unique about the new Neo’s that other films haven’t already.
The movie is basically a character study of two young women, Marissa (Alina Levshin), a 20-year old with anger management issues and a mother who doesn’t like to be touched, and Svenja (Jella Haase), a 15 year old baby Nazi who has a step-father who makes her get straight A’s in school and forces her to go through a whole pack of cigarettes at once when he discovers that she is smoking behind his back (don’t you hate when that happens).
There’s some indication that originally this was suppose to be a character study of three young women. There’s this third one, Melanie (Anne Laszus), a sort of Goth like creature lurking around the corners of the story. It’s unclear why she isn’t given the attention that other two are, and it’s too bad; a triumvirate might have made the film a little stronger. Instead, Melanie just throws the whole thing a little off balance and one wonders why she’s even in the movie at all.
The big problem is that one waits a long time for something really engaging to happen and that comes about when Marissa, in a fit of pique, runs two teenage Middle Eastern immigrants off the road, and like Paul on the road to Damascus, has a sudden conversion: she actually feels guilty and ends up trying to help the younger one make his way to Sweden. It’s an odd turn in the plot; she’s almost as puzzled about her new attitude as the audience. Levshin, who won the Lola for her performance (that’s German Oscar for those who aren’t in with the in crowd), attacks her role with the ferocity of a linebacker on steroids. She has the most complex character and somehow sells this fascinating contradictory aspect of her persona.
But the story of Marissa and the immigrant is only one-third of the movie, if that. In the end, everything else falls a bit flat. Wnendt never really does that strong or engaging a job of dramatizing why these three women would become “combat girls”. Instead, one comes away from the movie with the moral of the story being: if your mother doesn’t want to touch you; if your step-father is too strict; and if you have a baby when you’re very young and they take it away from you, you’re more likely to become a Nazi.
Perhaps so. It’s certainly a stronger theory that Michael Haneke’s in The White Ribbon where the rise of Adolf Hitler seemed to be blamed on kids not being allowed to masturbate. But I’m still a tad on the skeptical side.