Amma Asante’s latest period piece shines a light on an aspect of history often left out of textbooks. While the plight of the Jewish people during the Nazi regime has been well-documented, Where Hands Touch focuses on the black German experience during that time. With 25,000 mixed-race individuals, often with white German mothers and African fathers, living in Germany, Hitler had a problem on his hands. He could not openly dispose of them because of their German blood, but he could not condone them either.

Setting her film during 1944, Asante provides a broad look at the black German experience through the eyes of Lenya (Amandla Stenberg), a teenager living with her mother (Abbie Cornish) and younger brother. Despite her mother’s best attempts to protect her, Lenya’s skin colour is hard for others to look past. Always one step from having her freedom snatched away, the last thing Leyna expects is to strike up a friendship with Lutz (George MacKay), a young Nazi whose father (Christopher Eccleston), is a high-ranking Nazi official.

Developing genuine feelings for each other, which in and of itself is dangerous as the mere thought of black Germans procreating with “pure blood” Germans is a punishable offense, the pair find their love tested when survival becomes a necessity and not an option.

Already proving her skillful navigation of issues of race and feeling out of place in the world through films like Belle and A United Kingdom, Where Hands Touch should have been a slam dunk for Asante. Though a decent film overall, one cannot help but feel that there was plenty more gold to mine out of the subject matter. Despite Stenberg’s wonderful performance in the lead, Where Hands Touch lacks that deep emotional connection that one would hope for from a film like this.

Furthermore, there is very little to distinguish the film from others in the genre stylistically. Those familiar with Asante’s previous films will know what to expect here visually. While not hitting the heights it could have, Where Hands Touch is a reminder that there are plenty of stories from this era that have yet to be told. Hopefully this is only the first of many films to dissect the various facets of the black German experience.

Screens:
Saturday, September 15, 12:30 PM, Scotiabank

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