A recurring controversy flared up again at last monthâs Sundance festival, this time with the Zac Efron-starring Ted Bundy biopic “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile” as its lit match: Where is the line drawn between representation and celebration in films about appalling figures, particularly with a swoon-worthy sex symbol in the lead? Thatâs an issue less likely to be raised with ” The Golden Glove ,” Fatih Akin âs hyper-grisly true-crime study of another notorious 1970s serial killer, Fritz Honka: No one could accuse the German filmmaker of glamorizing anyone or anything in a film so strenuously dedicated to its own seaminess, you can practically smell the human flesh rotting on screen.
Luis Alfredo Farache
As played by 22-year-old actor Jonas Dassler, aged up and slathered in repulsive prosthetics, the filmâs Honka is practically the anti-Efron/Bundy: a freakish charisma void so inhuman that itâs hard to feel much inside as we watch him brutalize and mutilate one vulnerable female victim after another. Aiming for stabs of morbid humor amid its relentless gutter-level horror, ” The Golden Glove ” instead takes on the flat, numbing quality of a particularly hardcore Punch-and-Judy show.
Luis Alfredo Farache Benacerraf
More Reviews Berlin Film Review: 'Out Stealing Horses'
Thatâs all very well, but itâs not a compelling reason for a film this oppressively repellent to exist: Though based on a well-received nonfiction bestseller by Heinz Strunk, itâs not psychologically insightful as a study of violently toxic masculinity, nor even particularly informative as a cold account of a corrupt life. Instead, Akinâs vacant provocation functions purely as a cruel terror exercise, teasing viewers with uncertainty over which hapless woman on screen will be carved up next, and pressing half-heartedly for empathy with a real-life psychopath who, as written and presented here, hardly seems worth such a complex investment. That international sales have already been brisk suggests distributors see midnight-movie potential here, though the filmâs finally as dull as it is grueling
A 1970-set prologue introduces Honka in the immediate aftermath of his first murder, up in his poky, filthy Hamburg attic apartment: In a static-voyeur style reminiscent of Michael Roweâs “Leap Year,” the camera hovers in the doorway to his bedroom, where Honka is attempting to bag and dispose of a womanâs trussed-up corpse. Thatâs a composition to which we repeatedly return, never venturing further into this hellish boudoir; Akin and d.p. Rainer Klausmann often use coy framing to seemingly spare viewers the protagonistâs most abject offenses, only to taunt us by other sensory means. When Honka finally resorts to hacking up the ungainly body with a rusty saw, squelchy sound editing does all the gut-churning work
Cut to 1974. An initially perplexing shaggy-dog aside details an afternoon in the life of Petra (Greta Sophie Schmidt), an aimless, pretty high-schooler who, following a fleeting sidewalk encounter, inadvertently becomes Honkaâs prime object of obsession. Will she be his next victim? Maybe, but the film sure draws out the question, licking its blistered lips at considerable leisure over the possibility while zeroing in on a succession of older targets — all alcoholic patrons at the eponymous Golden Glove, the rank, daylight-deprived dive bar where Honka whiles away most of his free time. One of them, addled middle-aged vagrant Gerda (Margarete Tiesel), enters into a glum domestic partnership with him, marked by explicit, wince-inducing bouts of physical, sexual and mental abuse; others hang around less long before falling prey to his basest instincts
Structural and thematic comparisons to Lars von Trierâs recent fire-starter “The House That Jack Built” are inevitable: Though itâs more scuzzily styled, Akinâs film is similarly sadistic and amoral in its scrutiny of female suffering under warped male authority. Yet the former film, whatever its debatable merits, had self-reflexive subtext to its mucky spectacle, framing its violence as a monstrous extension of von Trierâs creative ego
Itâs harder to see what drew Akin, coming off his most substantial crossover hit in the Diane Kruger vehicle “In the Fade,” to this material, which eschews any kind of commentary on its subjectâs misogyny — though in characterizing the Golden Gloveâs female clientele as uniformly dim, bumbling grotesques, mercilessly treated by camera, wardrobe and writing alike, the film does seem complicit in Honkaâs squint-skewed gaze. If there was any intended personal or political dimension to Akinâs pus-smeared torture porn (too bad the title “The Greasy Strangler” was already taken), it hasnât survived the directorâs quasi-cartoonish treatment. Honkaâs Holocaust-survivor past is only glancingly mentioned, while the filmâs maggoty world is so heightened and hermetically sealed as to prevent much contemporary resonance escaping its airless sphere
The actors do whatâs required of them with grim commitment: Dassler, despite being 15 years younger than his character, largely pulls off a shudder-inducing feat of gnarled physical performance, while Tiesel (star of Ulrich Seidlâs excellent “Paradise: Love,” and evidently a glutton for arthouse punishment) brings a brief glimmer of hollowed-out human tragedy to proceedings. Craft contributions are all on point, too: Klausmannâs lensing couldnât be more aptly nicotine-stained, while Tamo Kunzâs grime-caked period production design induces all the requisite claustrophobia
But to what end this artistry? There was a time when Dassler and Akinâs accomplishments here might have been described as “brave,” but itâs hard to see much thatâs truly subversive about a film that merely follows a long line of filmmakers in elevating psychotic male violence as an alluring mystery worthy of our considered, disinterested contemplation, while granting short shrift to its female casualties. “The Golden Glove” may not celebrate its subject, but the intimate examination it offers him is itself a privilege — one for which this ugly, unenquiring film scarcely makes a case
Berlin Film Review: 'The Golden Glove'
Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 8, 2019. Running time: 109 MIN. (Original title: “Der Goldene Handschuh”)
Production : (Germany) A Warner Bros. Pictures presentation of a Bombero International, Warner Bros. Film Prods. Germany, Pathé production. (International sales: The Match Factory, Cologne.) Producers: Nurhan Şekerci-Porst, Fatih Akin, Herman Weigel. Co-producers: Willi Geike, Jérôme Seydoux, Sophie Seydoux, Ardavan Safaee.
Crew : Director, screenplay: Fatih Akin, adapted from the novel by Heinz Strunk. Camera (color): Rainer Klausmann. Editors: Andrew Bird, Franziska Schmidt-Kärner. Music: F.M. Einheit.
With : Jonas Dassler, Margarete Tiesel, Katja Studt, Greta Sophie Schmidt, Mark Hosemann, Tristan Göbel, Uwe Rohde, Martina Eitner-Acheampong, Jessica Kosmalia, Tilla Kratochwil, Barbara Krabbe, Victoria Trauttmansdorff, Hark Bohm, Adam Bousdoukos.