Even in today’s reality when most of our own personal mistrusts, inflamed opinions and outright xenophobia continue to center on groups like illegal immigrants, Arabs and Muslims, minorities and non-natives, there are still few if any subsections of the population that can bring with it such raw hatred and blinding emotion as the Neo-Nazi movement, either here in the States, or especially, in Germany. This is not a group with which can be associated a lot of warm feelings nor even understanding. They’ll probably tell you to fuck off if you tried anyway and stomp your skull when you looked at them with indignation after they did. That’s why movies about them, especially well-made ones like American History X – the de facto comparison to which Combat Girls is going to draw here in the U.S. – often bring with them such a raw, open wound intensity.
Combat Girls is cut from that same cloth, or a better analogy might be cut from the same skin as X. It features some outstanding writing and performances, none more so than star Alina Levshin, who is simply spectacular. Levshin is Marisa, a 20-year-old member of a local Neo-Nazi group that has no problems being total asses to anyone who ain’t them. This is punctuated by an early violence spree on a train with Marsisa, her boyfriend, Sandro (Gerdy Zint), a hardcore member of the group, and a couple of other members. Said spree lands Sandro in the gulag for a while and Marisa to deal with her own problems, which include the slow death of her beloved grandfather and her own hatred issues with foreigners, whom she blames for the decline of her country.
This is represented best by her runs-in with an Afghan refugee boy named Rasul (Sayed Ahmad Wasil Mrowat), on whom she retaliates when a confrontation at a beach with Rasul and his brother result in her car’s smashed mirror, and Rasul and his brother becoming scoring opportunities in Marisa’s own personal Death Race 2000. The evolution of their acquaintance a later relationship is unexpected and a lynchpin for Marisa’s own later developments with the skinheads and the movement in general. For you see, Marisa is no mere Neo-Nazi groupie, she’s a true believer, as prone to violent expressions of those beliefs as Sandro and any other skinhead man. Those beliefs were instilled by her grandfather, who was an unrepentant WWII soldier and Marisa’s hero. Thing is, he was no hero to Marisa’s mother (his daughter), who will have nothing to do with him until he “stops breathing”. It’s never outlined explicitly, but there’s some hints of physical and possibly sexual abuse there. Levshin runs the gamut of of emotions with Marisa, from contemptible violence to rebellion agianst her mother, to payback on some fools, struggling with ideals that at one time seemed so absolute, to compassion. It really is a multi-layered and highly contextualized performance.
Another story told is that of Svenja (Jella Haase), a 15-year-old wannabe groupie who is just discovering the Neo-Nazis via her boyfriend’s involvement. But he’s soon persona non grata with them due to his association with drugs, and when the time comes for Svenja to choose, she goes with the gang rather than the guy. The skinheads’ influence on her becomes profound, as she takes minor smoking rebellion against her stepfather to outright defiance and contempt. Her situation is nothing like Marisa’s for, even though her stepfather is straightlaced and probably a bit of as prick, he genuinely seemed to care for her. But that matters little to Svenja as she loses herself to the freedom represented by the gang. and a contentious initial relationship with Marisa develops into a friendship.
There really is a lot of other things going on: far right wing political statements, Neo-Nazi keggers full of angry youths and ride alongs of their hate-filled shenanigans , complicated family dynamics and inner turmoil by several involved. But the draw is Marisa’s development and also that of Svenja, as this is – at its heart – a tried and true coming of age tale. Writer / director David Wnendt has a good feel for putting it all together and making it gripping and interesting. Performances all around are good, including Mrowat, whose Rasul has a penetratingly quiet defiance in certain scenes with Marisa. Gerdy Zint is an excellent and intimidating Neo-Nazi asshole, giving the role more than the general violent stereotype Sandro is. Combat Girls is an engaging development tale set against an unflinching look at the Neo-Nazi culture, which is still alive, even if Adolf is fertilizing a compost heap somewhere.
Combat Girls is available on DVD, VOD and digital download on July 9.
[Rating: 3.5 Stars]