David Wendt’s gritty tale of dysfunctional youths, racial tensions and dubious role models is a tense, riveting watch: think THIS IS ENGLAND set in contemporary Germany. With a cleverly woven plot and authentic performances, particularly from the mesmerising Alina Levshin, COMBAT GIRLS is incredibly watchable, even though the drama occasionally resorts to cliché.
Wnendt follows two parallel stories, one of the plight of restless, audacious adolescent Svenja into radical neo-Nazism and the other of the hard, hostile Marisa, whose rigid ideological views are about to be questioned when she strikes up an unlikely relationship with a young Afghan boy. As Marisa’s gang prepare for their ‘war’ against immigrants, Svenja’s taste for rebellion escalates and Marisa herself begins to compromise her relationships more and more to get Rasul to safety and alleviate her guilt over his brother.
Levshin herself is a real discovery, managing to inspire sympathy for an aggressive, bigoted hooligan …
The film seems overlong at times, as the camera dwells incessantly on Levshin’s forlorn, troubled face. Svenja’s storyline also feels slightly improbable, with her journey into radicalism being a little too rapid to be believable. Marisa and Rasul’s relationship risks becoming clichéd, but it is performed with such sensitivity that it provides pathos as their friendship threatens to be exposed. Levshin herself is a real discovery, managing to inspire sympathy for an aggressive, bigoted hooligan with her understated, moody presence.
The family dynamics are cleverly written, with the father figures either absent or dictatorial, giving the audience an insight into why the protagonists resort to a gang for a sense of familial stability. There are some great moments, such as when Svenja’s stepfather, in discovering her smoking habit, forces her to smoke an entire pack in front of him, showing how the rigid tyranny of a lost regime is still exercised within family life. COMBAT GIRLS is an involving, shrewdly woven story of the dangers posed by a youth disengaged from society and a history that refuses to be forgotten.