Fantastic Fest 2019: THE GOLDEN GLOVE, Germany’s MANIAC

Only at Fantastic Fest would you be able to see a film like Fatih Akin’s The Golden Glove. It’s a challenging film that’s a chilling journey on which most filmgoers may not want to embark. You discover this pretty quickly as you are immediately confronted by the film’s opening sequence, where the film’s subject first assaults a half-naked corpse before he tries stuffing her in trash bag. When dragging the body down the stairs arouses the attention of his neighbors, he returns the corpse to his apartment to dismember her. It’s here in these opening minutes Fatih Akin lays out the kind of story he intends to tell, and it’s a bleak nihilistic portrait of an abusive man who kills to gain control and those unfortunate enough to fall into his trap.

The true crime tale transpires in the ‘70s and chronicles five years in the life of German serial killer Fritz Honka (Jonas Dassler), whose face was disfigured thanks to an auto accident. The serial killer stalked the red-light district in Hamburg where he was responsible for the deaths of at least four prostitutes over the period of five years, dismembering the bodies storing them in his flat’s crawl space. Honka primarily targeted older, overweight women who wouldn’t be missed, ensnaring most of his victims at the film’s namesake Golden Glove with the promise of free booze at his apartment. The film is less your traditional 3-act narrative and more a series of incidents punctuated by the story of young blonde Petra, who catches Honka’s eye at the beginning of the film. Reminiscent of Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time, the sense of dread builds as the pieces fall into place to put Petra once again in Honka’s path.

Not since Maniac’s Frank Zito (Joe Spinell) has a more garishly sweaty monster of a human being haunted our darkened theaters. Unlike most serial killer films we are accustomed to, The Golden Glove isn’t dark or dingy, but brightly lit. It feels like any moment director Fatih Akin could release us from this nightmare, but that never happens. Instead you are helpless to watch as the abusive Honka attempts to quit drinking in order to control his urges, only to resort once again to violence after drinking with a female coworker. It’s not because no woman will have him. There is an oddly sympathetic subplot about one of his victims, staying after the night of abuse and cleaning his house, because she had nowhere to go. But it’s his own emotional and sexual inadequacies that incite the violence he inflicts on the women, echoing the rhetoric of “involuntary celibate” incels today.

Fatih Akin shoots the violence with the lights on because he wants you to see every piece of ugliness on screen and face it head on. Having seen more than my fair share of extreme cinema, it’s the context of the last prostitute he kills, after commiserating about how they both suffered under the Nazi regime, that made him completely and totally unredeemable. That being said, Jonas Dassler turns in a beautifully unhinged performance akin to the likes of Joe Spinell and David Hess, crafting a truly terrifying cinematic monster. The Golden Glove was both revolting and remarkable in how it told a brutally true story of one man struggling with the illusions of inadequacy, alcoholism, and his need for violence in an attempt to gain control.

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