The dark side of Post-War Germany is mercilessly exposed in The Golden Glove, a serial killer study that would be absolutely horrifying if it wasn’t also so funny. Managing to take the serial killer genre and use it to brutally investigate the soul of a nation, it should easily be the most divisive film released in the country all year.
Fritz Honka (Jonas Dassler) is a remarkably ugly man. He cannot seem to buy any remotely attractive girls a drink as they are turned off by his massive nose, horn-rimmed glasses and lecherous grin. We first meet him in his cramped, disgusting flat, with endless naked women on the walls, cigarette butts on the floor and schnapps bottles on the tables. The year is 1970 and we first meet him cutting up a young woman on the floor. He is a hopeless, angry alcoholic, ready to seek vengeance upon every woman he sees.
The Golden Glove of the title refers to a traditional kneiper (pub) in Hamburg’s famous St Pauli district. Full of alcoholics, gambling addicts, prostitutes and general ne’er do wells, the curtains are always closed so no one knows what time it is. Classic 60s and 70s German doo-wop and country and western songs play on the jukebox, singing songs of love and sailing. People drink and drink and drink. To forget, to remember, and to while the time away.
This is where Fritz meets his victims. They are usually elderly ladies with mental issues. He plies them with ceaseless shots of schnapps until they agree to come home with him. Unable to get it up, his passion for sex quickly turns murderous, killing his victims in an infinite number of ways. Whatever you do, don’t see this on an empty stomach.
It’s not an easy watch and I wouldn’t judge if you want to dismiss it entirely. I went in expecting it to be another pointless portrait of deprivation. Yet, unlike the star of Lars Von Trier’s horrible The House That Jack Built, there’s no doubting that Fritz is a pathetic little monster. We are meant to laugh at him, not with him. Take the way he disposes of the bodies, filling up little cabinets in his flat with dismembered parts and warding the smell away with those air fresheners you’re supposed to hang up in a car rearview mirror. It’s gratuitous and sad. It’s also rather funny in the darkest sort of way.
Additionally, while mileage will vary with one’s understanding of German culture, the supporting cast of Golden Glove patrons provide a necessary counterpoint to the horror with endless dirty quips that simply cannot be reprinted here. They are all losers, but you kind of feel sorry for them (apart from Fritz himself), left behind by West Germany’s so-called economic miracle.
There is a larger point to all the deprivation. The shame of World War II and the Holocaust lingers everywhere. One patron is an SS officer. Another is a concentration camp survivor, forced to be a prostitute during the War. Fritz’s own father was put in a camp for being a communist. This is living history, even in Germany today. St Pauli is still chockablock with dive bars, sex cinemas, strip clubs and whorehouses (and a great, inclusive football team and some very nice people, I would add). Hamburg is still a place where people go to drink themselves silly and wash up in the Elbe. And Germany cannot ever truly wash away the stain of its sins. Fatih Akin is not messing around here.
This might make it a difficult watch for those with no connection to this past, but it somehow finds a way through all the muck. Interspersed with Fritz’ tale is the story of a young girl and boy who try and find a nice place to go on a date. And below his apartment lives a homely Greek family who have migrated to Germany for work, escaping their own country’s dictatorship. Naturally, Fritz blames them for the smell. Notice how the camera treats these characters, and how they are presented in relation to the Golden Glove’s patrons. Beneath all the horror, there is hope. There is a sense of morality here sorely lacking in Lars Von Trier’s solipsistic tale. You just have to look past all the dead bodies to the darker heart within.