Fresh from its much-publicised and talked-about premiere at the Berlinale, Fatih Akin’s follow-up to his overpraised In the Fade is a nauseating portrait of German serial killer Fritz Honka, who killed four prostitutes in Hamburg’s red-light district in the 1970s. The Golden Glove starts off promisingly enough, with the wordless and gruesome disposal of a body set to the sentimental sounds of Schlager. But when your opening gambit is that distinctive, and potentially teasing a lurid satire on post-war Germany, the rest of the film has nowhere to go; it lacks any form of escalation and Akin makes each sordid murder look and feel the same, to the point of icky tedium. Cult status is all but assured, but this is one B-movie that is as hollow as it is dull.
Comparisons with Lars von Trier’s recent The House That Jack Built are somewhat inevitable on a thematic level. But while the Danish provocateur challenges his audience in, albeit, often pretentious ways, Akin’s murky effort stinks of a childish desire to make the viewer’s stomach churn. And churn it does. For all of the film’s faults, each tobacco-stained frame positively reeks; everything from the props to the clothing to Honka’s squalid attic apartment has an unpleasantly tactile quality. It’ll take repeated showers and some bleach to wash away the grime, and if that was production designer Tamo Kunz’s desired effect, then hats off to him and his filthy wallpaper.
To his credit, Akin never glamorises the serial killer and Jonas Dassler gives what might generously be described as a transformative performance. However, the director’s puerile desire to shock once again gets the better of him. The decision to cake the handsome Dassler in grotesque makeup is detrimental to the overall effect. His Quasimodo stance, crooked teeth, drooping eyes and a comically-enhanced nose makes the portrayal feel cartoonesque rather than chilling, with echoes of some of Chris Morris’ outlandish characters in the brilliantly subversive British series Brass Eye. It all amounts to a showy performance only meant to advertise how boyish looks can leave no trace with enough prosthetics. It feels, much like the film itself, like a turgid exercise in empty provocation.
Der Goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove) | Directed by Fatih Akin (Germany, 2019), with Jonas Dassler, Katja Studt, Margarete Tiesel. Starts February 21.
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