Berlinale 2019: Fatih Akin's The Golden Glove is a tiresome but stylishly shot serial killer film with little to root for
If Fatih Akin’s aim was to merely provoke his audience with The Golden Glove, he achieves it with flesh crawling reality.
Serial killers make for fascinating subjects and when they are presented in a movie, the intrigue partly lies in the study into the killer’s personality and the interpretation of their vicious motives. No such satisfaction is forthcoming from Fatih Akin’s The Golden Glove (Der goldene Handschuh), a brutally shot and squeamishly presented thriller that follows the life of the cross-eyed German serial killer Fritz Honka, who lived in Hamburg. In the 1970s, Honka lured older alcoholic prostitutes into his fetid flat, baiting them with alcohol and slaughtered them.
Akin is a festival regular, the man behind the Golden Bear winning Turkish German existential drama Head-On in 2004. After a Golden Globe for the Best foreign language film in 2017 for his terrorism drama In the Fade, Akin is testing waters in the true crime genre with The Golden Glove that’s competing for another Golden Bear.
Extremely unsettling scenes unravel one after the other in The Golden Glove. The movie is the polar opposite of the morally questionable portrayal and casting of Ted Bundy, played by Zac Efron, in the Joe Berlinger directed Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile. If Akin is accused of anything, it will be for the ingloriousness of it all and laying the brutalities bare, without a semblance of psychological investigation and deeper look into the life of a man who was a raging sexual psychopath. Akin remains a passive observer and he seems to want the audience to play along. A tough undertaking, given how stomach churning the entire enterprise is.
The Golden Glove opens with Honka, played to disturbing perfection with the help of repulsive prosthetics, by the otherwise handsome Jonas Dassler, dismembering an older prostitute he has just murdered. He chugs vodka straight from the bottle, plays the saccharine breakup pop track titled 'Es geht eine Träne auf Reisen' that is about a lover’s lament on separation and heartbreak, and gets to work with his handsaw.
Flitting between jobs and drinking himself to stupor, Honka frequents the eponymous bar from which the film gets its title, in the seedy part of Hamburg’s St. Pauli district of the 1970s. His companions in the bar feign camaraderie towards the ugly and down-in-the-dumps Honka as he gets rejected by even the jobless but marginally better-looking older prostitutes in the bar. Instead, as night ticks by, his standards lower and his pickings reach the rock-bottom-feeders who are neither in their right minds to take a decision nor in a position to refuse alcohol.
Honka wants to be loved — that much is clear — but that longing of his personality that prompts him to do revolting things to women is never explored. He is obsessed with a listless, beautiful blonde teenager, Petra, complacent with her self-absorption, played by Greta Sophie Schmidt. Your heart skips a beat every time Honka gets closer to Petra but that tension is also under-exploited as the movie is busy showing you the next assault, slaughter and dismemberment.
The film’s misogyny is impossible to ignore. Scene after scene, the brutality meted out on older women is shown dispassionately but with extreme attention to detail. Though two of them prevail, one briefly, a snarky and overweight Frida, played by Martina Eitner-Acheampong, bashing Honka up and smearing his privates up with mustard obtained from his own fridge. The other is the hauntingly original Gerda Voss, played by Margarethe Tiesel, who enters a brief live-in relationship with Honka, unwittingly extending her lifeline and enticing him with talks of her younger daughter Rosi. Gerda is subsequently saved by a salvation army nun. But these measly redemptive joys are only short-lived.
Rainer Klausmann’s cinematography captures the sordidness of the namesake bar as much as Honka’s flat, the set design of which is aimed to nauseate the viewer, and it does. The camera hovers in the hallway reluctantly, whose walls are plastered with pornographic images cut out from magazines, when Honka either attempts to have sex with these women or strangle them to death. But that reluctance is never reserved for the brutal battery these women are subjected to.
It’s impossible to draw parallels with Lars von Trier’s The House That Jack Built, a psychological horror, but in the absence of any insights into the workings of Honka’s inner self, The Golden Glove is inane and terrifyingly tiresome.
If Akin’s aim was to merely provoke his audience with The Golden Glove, he achieves it with flesh crawling reality. But as a true crime thriller, the gruesomeness of all the blood and gore feels pointless and we end up with a stylishly shot psychopathic slasher flick with little to root for.
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