‘Where Hands Touch’ review: Amandla Sternberg shines in this unique take on an untold story in Nazi Germany during World War II
A heartfelt yet deeply upsetting wartime story of forbidden love and family, ‘Where Hands Touch’ will leave no dry eyes.
Most stories about the Holocaust tell the tales of Jewish families tortured and destroyed by Nazi Germany. However ‘Where Hands Touch’ is a different take on one of the most despicable times in human history. ‘Where Hands Touch’ is the story of a biracial German 15-year-old girl constantly living in fear, as the Nazi’s didn’t just target Jews but anyone who was not part of the Aryan race, especially individuals that were black. This is a story not just about survival and fear, but also of forbidden love and the power of family.
Starring Amandla Sternberg as Leyna, the daughter of a black African father who died before she was born and a white German mother (played by Abbie Cornish) who has devoted her life to protect her child from the ever-growing racism surrounding WWII. Leyna, her mother and little brother are in constant fear of Leyna being taken away due to the color of her skin. Because of her mother’s choice to have Leyna, she has been shunned by her family and is left with little resources to keep her daughter safe.
Despite Leyna’s life of fear and constant struggle, she develops an unlikely friendship with the son of a prominent Nazi official, Lutz (played by George MacKay). As their secret friendship evolves it’s very clear what’s going on here, we have another Romeo & Juliet on our hands. Lutz falls hard for Leyna, yet he has been so brainwashed by the Nazi society that throughout most of the film, he continues to support the movement, without knowing exactly what he is supporting.
Their whirlwind romance is sweet and pure, exploring the giddy excitement of first love. With that being said, as a viewer, it’s extremely stressful to watch, knowing that this likely will not end well for either of them. While the first half of the film introduces us to the world and the characters, the second half of the film is far more sinister.
The true standout performance in the film was Sternberg’s, whose subtle vulnerability and incredible strength made the character of Leyna one that people will never forget. This poor girl goes to hell and back, and by the end of the film, audiences will likely feel like they went on this journey with her, too. Having been in a plethora of films this year, it wouldn’t be surprising if Sternberg receives best actress nominations for her heartbreaking and honest portrayal.
The other performances of note were Cornish and MacKay's. Cornish is honestly unrecognizable in the film, showing us a side of her we have never seen before. This is one of those performances that without saying much, you know exactly where this character stands and what she’s made of.
MacKay is also incredible, showing us humanity in a boy that simply got born into the wrong life. It’s an interesting thought, as it’s hard to believe that every single Nazi started off with bad intentions. There were likely some, like Lutz, that got brainwashed and forced into this life of terror. It’s a sensitive and difficult kind of character to approach let alone portray, but MacKay did so with intense fervor.
‘Where Hands Touch’ will likely not leave a dry eye in the theatre. It’s an important film with an even more important message. ‘Where Hands Touch’ hits theaters nationwide on September 14.