Apart from its grisliness, its hopelessness, and its pointlessness, what strikes you most about this true-crime movie is its brownness. The colour brown predominates. Fatih Akin painstakingly and pedantically re-enacts the gruesome life of Fritz Honka, a Hamburg serial killer who in the early 70s kept dismembered body parts of prostitutes in his attic flat. When people complained about the smell, Honka – a racist as well as everything else – blamed the Greek Gastarbeiter family that lived downstairs.
Everything in this universe is a deeply depressing shade of brown: the wooden furniture in his apartment and also in The Golden Glove – the unspeakable pub where he picked up his victims – as well as the beer bottles, the curtains, the food, the dried blood, the wet blood, the stains on clothing and of course the spilling contents of Honka’s lavatory. Even the porn pinned up all over the walls seems to have turned brown with age. Here is where Honka violently assaults and murders these women in circumstances which, even without the violence, might cause Lucian Freud to lay down his brush and say: “Do you know, I’d really rather not.”
Over the closing credits, this film, just like sentimental Hollywood biopics, shows pictures of the real-life people involved and crime-scene photos of the actual locations to show how very very faithfully it has reconstructed everything. But why? Even if Akin got some details wrong, or changed everything utterly, I suspect a substantial majority of any audience wouldn’t have noticed or cared. Is Honka a legendary figure in Germany, like Dennis Nilsen in Britain or Jeffrey Dahmer in the US? Does our pop culture need another legendary serial killer, or have we got enough of them now?
Of course, The Golden Glove can’t in any way be said to glamorise or fetishise this man, the way Netflix have with Ted Bundy. The banality, and arguably by that token the evil, is all there. The violence and misogyny is truly horrible, and looks very authentic.
But inevitably, the film suffers in comparison with films whose sense-memory it conjures up – by accident or design. The desolate world of loneliness in bars and pick-up joints, and the casual racism of 1970s West Germany, might well call to mind Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Fear Eats The Soul (1973) – and the sinister existential nightmare of the serial killer might be something that brings Werner Herzog’s The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick (1972) into the conversation. But those movies found something else in their squalor and drear: a flash of passion, or hope, or insight, or mystery. And this doesn’t have the subtlety and humanity of Akin’s earlier pictures like Head On (2004) or The Edge Of Heaven (2007).
It could be said to have black comedy, of a sort, and there is a nauseous twinge of humour when Honka, retching at the pile of hastily wrapped limbs in his cupboard, throws on top of them an air-freshener tree of the sort minicab drivers keep in the car. And The Golden Glove’s proprietor itself demonstrates a gaunt drollery as he describes how there is a two-tier system based on nicknames grading the importance of those losers and creeps that drink there. If they have two nicknames, like “SS Norbert” (who says he used to be in the SS) then they have a certain prestige. If it is just one nickname, like a guy known simply as “Anus”, then they have less cachet.
And so it grinds on, to its grim conclusion. Jonas Dassler, in heavy facial prosthesis as the hideous Honka, does an honest job in the role and the film is technically accomplished. But there is something meagre and futile about it.