The feeling of drowning in pig shit whilst simultaneously being set on fire is a sensation known to few. But those who braved the entire 110-minute runtime of Der Goldene Handschuh (The Golden Glove) understand this feeling. Such a disgusting fate also happens to be the well-deserved sentence for director Fatih Akin’s latest feature. In adapting the true story of a grotesque, homicidal misogynist of 1970s Hamburg, Akin dedicates his resources to observe the humanity of this monster. In today’s social climate, The Golden Glove is jarring and Akin probably doesn’t care.
The title takes its name from a shabby pub frequented by day drinkers. It’s also the scouting grounds for the alcoholic Fritz Honka. Taking advantage of the vulnerable and inebriated state of some women, he lures them back to his apartment – a dingy, unkempt grotto where the walls a lined with posters of naked women – to sexually assault and murder.
Despite Honka’s bug-like eyes, poor posture and general Frankenstein’s monster vibes, this external ugliness fails to match the repulsive tendencies that lie within. At one point it is even suggested that Honka lacks agency in his misdeeds and his impulses derive directly from his alcoholism. This pivot away from blame is one amongst many false steps taken by Akin.
Another such step is the gratuitous violence of the serial killer. The excessive, vivid abuse of women on screen felt like an echo of cinema that should have been retired long ago. Moments of respite from this harrowing experience were infrequent, yet thoroughly welcomed. The running joke of Honka attempting to mask the smell of the rotting corpses (which he keeps) with pine-scented car air fresheners is an example of the humour that Akin should have deployed with more focus. Other moments when Honka sees some sort of justice – such as one victim pasting spicy mustard on Honka where it would hurt – were cause for internal cheer.
It came as no surprise that so many critics left the screening of The Golden Glove. As they fled the gore and violence, my first thought was that Akin was an artist who wouldn’t care in the slightest that his film was being received in such a way. This same indifference to the reception of his work is fundamentally encoded into the subject of The Golden Glove, which is why is comes as such a profound cinematic misstep.