(some minor spoilers)
Kriegerin (Combat Girls, which is a stupid English title as Warrior would work perfectly) is a relentless portrait of two young women who end up in a neo-Nazi organization simply because society doesn’t offer them anything else. It is a very effective movie that doesn’t shy away from anything, making it hard to watch at times. It also doesn’t simply paint people as bad or evil, but mostly as lost, which I will get into in a second. The movie takes its subjects seriously and doesn’t really judge them, it mostly just observes. Marisa, the main and basically title character, is played by Alina Levshin in an amazingly strong performance. I’m unsure if the plot always works and if the off-screen narration at the beginning and end are really necessary (especially the last lines made me cringe a little). The in medias res opening also added a hopelessness that I’m not sure the movie really needed. But this is nit-picking, overall the film is very well directed by David Wnendt and presents a subject matter that is not talked about enough, at least not from this point of view.
It is hard to watch the movie and not wonder about why people become radicals in any way, why they would harass foreigners, get Swastika and 88 tattoos and let themselves be indoctrinated about Jews. The movie shows all of that and most of the people follow that ideology blindly, without really questioning anything. But they are mostly young people and the movie makes it very clear that their lives are hopeless, dark, without a direction or perspective. They have no jobs and if they do, it is working at the grocery store. Otherwise, they hang around together at lakes and apartments, drink, smoke, have sex. It becomes clear that they are looking for something that makes sense to them. They are angry at the world and this society and it is easier to direct that anger at people who look different than them. They enjoy the feeling of a brotherhood, a comradery, but the movie also shows disturbingly well how frail this group feeling is. People are excluded easily and something like sexual abuse is tolerated because no one wants to question the group.
Marisa is the perfect example. She has a low-paid job, her mother seems to love her, but also has no high hopes for her. Her grandfather is dying and his war stories seemed to have shaped her thinking. We also see him, right at the start, training her to be a “warrior”, to be strong and tough. And she is, but she is also impulsive. But one of her actions eventually takes her down a different path, because she sees its implications and obviously has some morals left in her to change. But the thing is that her life doesn’t offer her much. Svenja (Jella Haase), hates her life, too, her stepfather who enforces extremely strict rules upon her and her mother who tries to be her friend but looks away when her new husband’s education is demeaning. She is not poor and badly educated, like most of the other youths we see, but like so many other kids her age, she hates the boundaries she lives in and finds no appeal in anything society offers her. We see pretty clearly that she is not convinced by the Nazi propaganda, but she so desperately wants to belong, to believe in something that makes her stronger. In a way, both arrive within those circles from completely different directions, but the motivations are the same.
All of the characters seem to be haunted by this gigantic void that encapsulates so many in our culture, this void created by following all those rules and regulations, by following the plan our society has for us that leaves no space for ourselves and creates this void within us. We aren’t told to stop and wonder why we do all these things (school, job, etc.), but the pointlessness of much of it makes us desperate and in the need for something that feels real. There is a reason that extreme forms of escapism are attractive to so many of us, be it drugs or fanaticism or porn or fame. Or sex, as the movie depicts brilliantly. Marisa and her boyfriend have extremely intense sex scenes where they seem to go at it as hard as possible, to feel anything, to forget everything else. The camera often uses extreme close-ups of their faces to emphasize how far they want to go for that desire, beyond simple desire, beyond anything, out of focus of the things that haunt them.
The film does not have answers and only a little bit of hope in the end, but it is very effective in showing how people get to bad places, not because they believe in extreme ideas, but because they need something extreme to channel their frustration and anger at the world. They don’t know that it’s not them that’s flawed, but our culture and as long as they don’t know that, they will continue to become radicals in various ways.