Berlinale Bloggers 2019
Horror, Honka, Hamburg
Neither horror film nor social drama: As little as Fatih Akin's new film "The Golden Glove" can decide what it actually is, as little is Berlinale blogger Jutta Brendemühl sure what she should think of the German competition entry.
By Jutta Brendemühl
I initially walked out neither loving nor hating The Golden Glove. It took me a day to get off the fence about Golden Bear winner Fatih Akin’s lastest Berlinale competition title. Seeing the cast photo at the Berlinale Palast a day later made me see more clearly. When crossing over into parody over the (real) serial killing of women, even a passionate, well-intentioned, skilled filmmaker like Fatih Akin goes astray. Some things just ain't that funny.
Photo of the film cast: Margarethe Tiesler, Jonas Dassler, Fatih Akin | Photo (detail): © Jutta Brendemühl Akin gives us Fritz Honka, Hamburg’s Jack the Ripper, a small, disfigured and dysfunctional run-down failure, desperate for love and normalcy, who killed and dismembered four women in the early 70s. Another Hamburg hometown hero like Akin, Heinz Strunk, wrote the bestselling book the film is based on. The lead is an unrecognizable Jonas Dassler, currently starring in Germany’s Oscar contender Never Look Away. Dassler, in admittedly great makeup and costume, has nowhere to go with a psychopathic character without development or modulation but gives a good performance within that narrow framework.
Social universe of abuse and lethargyThe supporting male character list reads like a Brechtian revue of 20th century subproletarian outcasts: SS-Norbert, Tampon-Guenther, Schnapps-Max. I wish we would have gotten to spend more time with them at the Golden Glove because they make up the social universe of abuse and lethargy that a Honka inhabits. They are alone together at the (real and still existent) Hamburg red light district dive bar The Golden Glove that is offering beer and schnapps as an anodyne for the pain of living life at rock bottom.
The woman, the victims, are homeless and/or prostitutes, out of options and hope, trading degradation for booze and shelter, up in Honka’s apartment, which turns out to be a house of horrors without exit. Fir tree air refreshers are meant to mask the stench of rotting flesh hidden in the walls. Honka blames the revolting odours on the Greek neighbour’s cooking.
Neither horror shocker nor social dramaAt the end of the day, The Golden Glove is not quite genre enough to be an on-the-edge-of-your-seat horror film (the tight trailer was deceptive); it’s not a morality tale or social drama, it gives little motivation, it doesn’t qualify or justify anything either.
The four failed, abused, desperate, middle-aged, female victims, casual hookers to survive, are portrayed by strong actresses who give each as much distinct personality and dignity as possible in their limited screen time. Like the outstanding Margarethe Tiesel, who you might remember as a sex tourist from Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise: Love.
Violence scenes as “visual shock therapy”?Intentionally, the women are not the focus of the film. Fatih Akin kept insisting at the press conference that he wanted to give a serial killer dignity while “wishing for a world without serial killers. I was trying to catch the moments of humanity that Strunk's novel affords Honka.” Nothing wrong with that artistic choice per se. But nothing really relevant about it either.
Akin was aware of course of the #metoo debate: “I thought we had to do more than just talk – most men don’t understand what violence towards women really means. They need a sort of visual shock therapy, that’s why I showed the violence so explicitly, as depressing as it is.” I don’t think his math worked out. We do get some background from one of the women, abused as a child by nuns in a home. We get some background from another woman, who was a forced prostitute in a Nazi concentration camp that makes Honka reveal that his father, a Communist, was in a camp. On we move. Fatih Akin wanted to stay close to Honka, the man and the monster. But to what purpose.
When a friend asks whether I would recommend she see the film, I am stumped. One of the women about to be killed by Fritz Honka asks the all important question: Why? “What do I know,” yells Honka. Nor does the audience.