Thursday, January 16, 2020

Movie Review: The Golden Glove

The Golden Glove ** ½ / *****
Directed by: Fatih Akin.
Written by: Fatih Akin based on the novel by Heinz Strunk.
Starring: Jonas Dassler (Fritz Honka), Philipp Baltus (Zuhälter), Margarete Tiesel (Gerda Voss), Adam Bousdoukos (Lefteris), Katja Studt (Helga Denningsen), Tristan Göbel (Willi), Martina Eitner-Acheampong (Frida), Marc Hosemann (Siggi Honka), Greta Sophie Schmidt (Petra Schulz), Hark Bohm (Dornkaat-Max), Laurens Walter (Polizist), Victoria Trauttmansdorff (Gisela), Heinz Strunk (Kriegsveteran), Tom Hoßbach (Fritz Honka (jung), Jessica Kosmalla (Ruth), Dirk Böhling (Soldaten-Nobert), Uwe Rohde (Herbert Nürnberg), Jens Weisser (Passant), Simon Goerts (Anus), Barbara Krabbe (Anna), Peter Badstübner (Tampon-Günther), Tilla Krachtovil (Inge), Lars Nagel (Nasen-Ernie), Klaus Bobach Rios (Halbstarker).
I think I can see the logic behind Faith Akin’s thoroughly repugnant serial killer film The Golden Glove. We often elevate serial killer into either genius types like the fictional Hannibal Lector, or the charming psychopaths like the real Ted Bundy. But the reality of them is usually much sadder and smaller. The Golden Glove is about the real serial killer Fritz Honka, who between 1970 and 1975 killed at least four women – all older prostitutes in Hamburg’s Red Light District. He would bring them home, and when he got angry to go along with him already being drunk, he’d strangle them – and then cut up their corpses, keeping most of the body parts in a crawl space in his apartment. People complained about the smell, but no one did anything. His victims were the type of people most wouldn’t miss – two of them hadn’t even been reported missing when he was eventually arrested. Honka and his victims led strange, sad existences – and he was a pathetic, violent monster. He didn’t get away with it for years because he was a genius or charming – he got away with it because no one gave a shit what he or his victims were doing.
Akin’s film is probably the most repellent of 2019. It is for people who thought Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built was too much of a feel good movie. That film gave its fictional serial killer a lot of time to pontificate about what he does and why he does it – elevating what he does to an art. The Golden Glove gives Honka no such time, because even if it did, he wouldn’t know what to do with it. He likely couldn’t articulate why he did anything he did – he would just get angry and murder people. He is a blunt instrument.
There are many things you could praise about The Golden Glove – which I think is precisely the film that Akin wanted to make. The talented Turkish/German filmmaker behind such films as The Edge of Heaven and In the Fade has not lost any of his filmmaking chops to be sure – every shot here is planned for maximum impact. He wants to make a grimy, disgusting film – and he has succeeded in doing that. You can practically smell Honka’s disgusting apartment – which hasn’t been cleaned, ever and has girly pictures on the wall – and that’s even before you know the bodies are there. The bar which gives the film its name isn’t all the much nicer, and the streets of Hamburg make the Gotham the Joker inhabited last year look cheery by comparison. Jonas Dassler, an attractive man in his 20s, is buried under a lot of makeup to make him look like the much older, much uglier Honka – and it succeeds. The performance is as good as it could possibly be under the circumstances, as Dassler fully inhabits Honka in every repellent aspect. I doubt any actor could have done better. Akin is clearly going for a kind of modern day Rainer Werner Fassbinder film – whereas Fassbinder often looked back at the post war German era from the vantage point of the 1970s, and saw nothing but corruption and greed – a society that had learned nothing from the war, Akin is looking back at the period Fassbinder made films in, and seeing the same thing. A caring society doesn’t discard people like this – Holocaust survivors are among the victims here, and they’ve been tossed away again.
And yet, none of this means you should actually watch The Golden Glove. It’s one of those films that may be interesting to discuss and dissect, but is a chore to sit through – not only because the film is repugnant, but also because it’s repetitive, and after a while boring. You probably don’t want to spend much time in Honka’s anger and booze filled, and otherwise empty, head. The female characters in the movie – brave performances all – are empty, because they are viewed in the same way Honka viewed them – as sex objects for him to use, abuse and discard if he sees fit.
Again, I think all of this is precisely what Akin is going for here. He has made exactly the film he wanted to. He just didn’t think about why anyone would want to watch it.

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