Turkish filmmaker Fatih Akin is likely unknown to most genre cinema audiences, having built a career almost solely within the confines of the arthouse circuit both foreign and abroad. Despite this, his work has remained abrasive and polarizing; from the combination of frank sexuality and unflinching violence in the ultra-dark romance Head-On to the real world atrocity focused revenge drama In The Fade, Akin has never been one to shy away from the darker side of life and he amplifies that to an unpredictable and, perhaps, indefensible degree with The Golden Glove.
Earning its title from the name of the dingy pub where real life serial killer Fritz Honka (Jonas Dassler) met his victims, The Golden Glove will inevitably earn comparisons to Lars von Trier’s equally dour – yet also surprisingly funny – serial killer yarn The House That Jack Built which was also met with uproar on the festival circuit due to its uncompromising violence. And The Golden Glove is certainly violent; most will find the film repulsive in its clinical and objective rendering of the dissection of the human body, an act which even opens the film. But, like von Trier’s film before it, The Golden Glove isn’t merely wallowing in blood and refuse – albeit providing ample amounts of both – it is at its core a vibrant character study of a broken mind and, dare we say, achingly beautiful in its depiction of the worst side of humanity.
The comparisons to The House That Jack Built will be knee-jerk yet apt, but where Akin’s film really finds root is in the work of German queer iconoclast Rainer Werner Fassbinder. The derelict locations, tightly framed close-ups of Honka’s deformed face and grotesque (and explicit) sexuality all feel at home in Fassbinder’s world – which should come as no surprise considering its setting in 1970s Germany. If you approach it as Fassbinder making Angst, you should have a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into.
The Golden Glove should righty earn a place in the pantheon of great serial killer films but will undoubtedly be too much for most folks to handle, and perhaps rightly so. Honka is a hard to empathize with character, is visually repellent and lacks the charisma of someone like Hannibal Lecter or even Matt Dillon’s Jack – he’s practically the personification of anti-human, which makes every murder and subsequent dissection that much harder to stomach. Yet it manages to earn pathos thanks to Dassler’s performance, which ranks as one of the best of the year. It’s not quite in the realm of “extreme” cinema, but it’s difficult and, in the end, rewarding for the right viewer. Hard to recommend but easy to praise.