One of Germany's youngest film talents, David Wnendt, has just released a controversial new film that critics are calling powerful and frightening. "Kriegerin," or "Combat Girls" as it is called in English, goes behind the scenes of right-wing extremist gangs in East Germany and leaves audiences both shocked and bewildered.
David Wnendt's debut film "Combat Girls" has sparked plenty of debate - something that would normally please a director. But in the light of the recent discovery of a right-wing terrorist cell in the German city of Zwickau, the film's portrayal of extremist gangs in East Germany comes a little too close to what many fear might be the truth.
After its premiere at the Munich Film Festival last summer, "Combat Girls" went on to claim major awards at film festivals at home and abroad. It has just been released in German cinemas this month.
Only a few months ago, the film's plot might have been considered too cliché to be taken seriously. But since then, the film has become a symbol of how reality sometimes catches up with fiction. Indeed, several film critics have described the director David Wnendt as visionary.
The turning point
Wnendt's main protagonist, Marisa, is an adolescent living in East Germany whose life revolves around a far-right extremist gang. Brandishing swastika tattoos and hatred for foreigners, the gang is fired up by the ideology of other Nazi sympathizers in the region.
But an encounter with two young Afghan asylum-seekers changes Marisa's outlook on life. In an outburst of uncontrolled anger, she drives her car into the two foreigners, injuring them seriously. The incident becomes the turning point for Marisa, who ends up befriending one of the Afghans and helping them escape to Sweden.
Years ago, David Wnendt traveled to eastern Germany to take photos of the derelict industrial landscapes still found in the region. Unexpectedly, he came into contact with several members of far-right extremists gangs.
"I had the impression there was phenomenal interest in these issues in small eastern German towns. It shocked - but it also interested me," he said.
Women take active roll
This prompted Wnendt to start his own research and establish contact with people - particularly young women - who were involved in the right-wing extremist scene.
"Recently, the number of women involved in the far-right organizations has grown extensively. Women are no longer just onlookers; they've taken on important positions within these organizations," explained the filmmaker.
In "Combat Girls," Wnendt takes a closer look at gatherings where young people get together to sing Nazi songs, drink alcohol and watch old Nazi propaganda films. He depicts not just attacks on foreigners in the tram, but smaller racist incidents in everyday life. He examines the private lives of gang members and the powerlessness of their parents, who have failed to stop their children's involvement in such organizations.
His characters are authentic, their environment realistic.
But the psychological structure of the film has its faults. Considering Marisa's background, her relationship with the young Afghan asylum-seekers develops far too quickly to be believable. Indeed, Marisa's path to redemption is not realistic, but belongs more to the dramatic conventions of cinema.
Provocative and entertaining
"Combat Girls" is a film that shocks - which is obviously what the young director was aiming for. "The film is meant to educate without being too obvious," Wnendt said, adding, "It should be provocative and entertaining and make its point without resorting to stereotypes or cheap visual effects."
Wnendt's film does attempt to get to the heart of the issues. It presents young people's perspectives, the powerlessness of their parents, their struggles with unemployment, and the ideological vacuum left in these regions after the fall of communism.
"The extreme right's issues and views are finding their way more into mainstream society," said Wnendt, adding that he believes people are loosing their faith in democracy.
Indeed, almost every second person in eastern Germany thinks that democracy is no longer the best form of government. And even those who do not call themselves right-wing are often hostile to foreigners.
"That is mostly in areas where there are only a small number of foreigners," he added.
With "Combact Girls," David Wnendt has unintentionally created a movie that broaches one of Germany's hottest topics. However, perhaps what is more frightening is just how close to reality the fictional scenes of this film actually are.
Author: Jochen Kürten / bos
Editor: Kate Bowen