In my ongoing search for 2019 horror movies that might be worth placing on my “best horror films of the year” list, I was recommended – directly and indirectly – to check The Golden Glove, by acclaimed German filmmaker Fatih Akin.
I was lucky enough to catch this film in a theatre, as I found out it was playing in theatres where I live. To be completely honest with you, I was both excited and scared to watch The Golden Glove: not because the film was deemed extremely disturbing, but because the critical reception for it has been extremely negative (outside from horror circles). Indeed, I was afraid The Golden Glove was going to be one of those horror flicks filled with gore and distasteful content, but also characterised by terrible story, bland visuals and silly performances.
Continue reading and check my final grade below…
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The Golden Glove – a disturbing true story
Why was the film so disturbing though? In case you didn’t know, The Golden Glove is based around the last months (or last few years) in the life of Fritz Honka, also known as the butcher of St Pauli, a killer who raped, murdered and dismembered the bodies of old women in the area, between 1970 and 1975. In the movie, we follow Fritz as he spends his time drinking at the Golden Glove – a miserable pub in Hamburg, Germany – where he picks up the women to take them to his apartment.
As one might anticipate, the content of The Golden Glove is very disturbing and unapologetic. From the opening scene, we are right into the action as we witness Fritz getting rid of a body in a rather bloody and uncomfortable way. As the film goes by, these violent acts become more and more intense. However, what’s also incredibly hard to watch about Akin’s latest picture is the fact that the viewer is forced to deal with a main character who’s a disgusting monster with no redeeming elements to his personality and actions.
Portrait of a disgusting monster and a recovering country
Much of this sense of hatred the viewer is brought to feel for the main character comes from Jonas Drassler’s performance as Fritz Honka, which constantly reminded me of Russell Geoffrey Banks in Who’s Watching Oliver. For this role, the actor went through an insane transformation that’s both visual and related to the mannerism: the combination of great directing and outstanding makeup (the best I’ve seen in 2019 horror movies), creates a character that truly stands out as lead and villain simultaneously. Beyond the mask that talented artists have crafted, though, there’s a truly committed and astounding performance: Jonas Drassler really became Fritz Honka and showed no hesitation in acting very disturbing and certainly demanding sequences.
Just like he’s depicted in The Golden Glove, Fritz Honka was short and of slight build, he had a squint and a speech impediment. In other words, it wasn’t exactly pleasant to look at. This trait of his, though, is transferred to every character in the movie: everyone in the film, especially the usual customers at the Golden Glove, looks miserable, ugly, dirty. Every character, including the victims, delivers the idea of hopelessness that seems to recreate what would have been like to live in Hamburg a few years after World War II. What really stands out about such a depressing set of characters is that Fatih Akin was able to convey a very dark sense of humour to them and to the situation. Unexpectedly, The Golden Glove features some hilarious scenes where the punchline is connected to either quirky characters or visual jokes.
A distinctive look for a truly disturbing movie
Speaking of visuals, The Golden Glove sets itself apart from most serial killer movies. The cinematography, here, serves two purposes: on one hand, it makes the actors shine as the camera rotates around them with very few cuts to break the flow. On the other, it makes the film feel claustrophobic and intentionally dirty and gritty. There are long takes and wide shots, but they don’t make you feel riveted: instead, they only make you experience the ugly, disgusting and bleak environment the characters are living in.
The visual style of the film perfectly matches its highly disturbing and off-putting content. The Golden Glove doesn’t shy away from gory sequences, rape scenes and full-on nudity, but everything that’s displayed on screen seems to be there to enhance the realism rather than being thrown in for pure shock values. Unfortunately, many others would disagree with me: the main reason why Akin’s latest picture has been poorly received is that many reviewers criticised its bleakness and confronting scenes as pointless and gratuitous. Honestly, I feel very different about it: the despair one can find in this picture, the hatred that comes following such a hideous main character comes from the fact that Akin didn’t sugar-coat anything, he didn’t romanticise the story nor he made Fritz Honka’s actions justifiable. If anything, the movie feels like an honest portrait of a monster, whose actions have no reason nor excuse.
Flaws with The Golden Glove and potential controversy
Some people may argue that one part of the movie, which revolves around Fritz Honka quitting his alcohol consumption for a while, is questionable and misleading: during this period, the main character becomes somewhat likeable and sympathetic, since his behaviour completely changes, and the viewer witnesses his struggle to become a good person. Whether this part of the character’s life is accurate or not, it’s undeniable that the judges who found Honka guilty of his heinous crimes considered his habitual abuse of alcohol to be a mitigating factor. Whether you agree on such a statement or not, it’s impossible for me to criticise the film for sticking to facts and reinterpreting something that’s official and documented.
I do, however, criticise the film for some flaws and inconsistencies. These are minor issues that didn’t detract from the overall experience, though. For example, in the opening scene there’s a jump-scare for no reason, added in post-production, which turns a very disturbing scene into something sillier and unnecessarily cinematic. Also, The Golden Glove features some stylistic choices – like Honka’s hallucinations – that appear at random in the movie feeling quite distracting, despite how gorgeously filmed they are. Finally, there’s a subplot about two teenage characters that serves no purpose in the story, nor it enhances Honka’s personality in any meaningful way.
If you’re not easily put off by extreme cinema, you should definitely give The Golden Glove a chance. The movie might, indeed, be pointless but so were the life and the atrocious acts the main character in the movie committed. In this sense, I think Fatih Akin succeeded at what he set himself out to do: he crafted an unflinching, disturbing and realistic depiction of the crimes committed by a sick mind. He did that with no glorification and without attempting any sort of psychological assessment on the killer. Simultaneously, Akin showed us a glimpse into the miserable lives of many Germans in the 70s, all the while managing to enhance the movie’s value through great filmmaking and unique style.
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