‘Tough Love’ (‘Harte’): Berlin Review

When the going gets tough, the tough get pimping

Cult filmmaker Rosa von Praunheim bows his latest docudrama at the Berlinale Panorama

A German pimp with a penchant for violence. The prostitute with a heart of gold who loves him. The demented mother who ruined him. Lots of depressing sex scenes set in dreary working-class apartments.

If these seem like the key ingredients to a Rainer Werner Fassbinder movie, they’re in fact part of a true story that makes up the latest docudrama from prolific Berlin-based filmmaker/gay activist Rosa von Praunheim (Rent Boys, Neurosia: 50 Years of Perversity). Based on the harrowing life of Andreas Marquardt, a victim of sexual abuse who grew into a karate champ, prosperous hustler, federal prisoner and eventually, martial arts instructor and author, the film jumps between present-day interviews and kitschy flashbacks shot in black-and-white, revealing a man who overcame trauma through the power of therapy and his own two fists.

Screening in Berlin’s Panorama section – where von Praunheim’s movies (over 70 in all) have often premiered – Love should play well with the filmmaker’s local fan base and minor cult following abroad, with continued gigs on the international fest circuit.

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Adapted by the director and writers Nico Woche and Jurgen Leme from Marquardt’s 2006 autobiography, the film begins with its subject speaking candidly about his past, before jumping into dramatized recreations where young Andreas, aka Andy (Hanno Koffler), is raised by a single mother (Katy Karrenbauer) after his abusive father is kicked out of the house for crushing his 6-year-old son’s hand.

But rather than finding solace in the arms of mutter, Andy lands between the legs of a perverted Mommie Dearest who forces him into a long-term incestuous relationship – one which von Praunheim hardly shies away from, capturing sexual acts from the young boy’s POV as his mom strips down for him, plays with his genitals or, in one rather unbearable sequence, casually lubricates an oversized dildo like she’s spreading icing on a tray of cupcakes.

To say Andy had an unhappy childhood is more than an understatement, and he soon grows up to become a fierce fighter and street enforcer, eventually setting up shop as a pimp in what he would call his personal “I Hate Women” campaign. Yet despite his outward loathing of the opposite sex, one woman pops into his life with the possibility of changing it: beautiful 16-year-old secretary, Marion (Luise Heyer), who soon falls in love with Andy, only to turn into one of his prized streetwalkers – a vocation she doesn’t seem to mind at all. (We later learn that Marion was also abused as a child.)

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Much of the film’s midsection depicts the push-and-pull relationship between pimp and prostitute, and in that sense recalls Fassbinder’s debut Love is Colder than Death, especially with its stark, colorless imagery (by Nicolai Zorn and Elfi Mikesch) and faux theatrical backdrops (credited to four production designers). Some of these scenes veer into camp territory, especially when mom pops back into the picture, but stars Koffler (Free Fall) and (Jack) offer up convincing, intensely physical performances, playing two self-punishing people who nonetheless find their way toward true love.

If the last act is less visceral as it follows Andy’s quest for psychological aid, and if it’s not always easy to accept how easily Marion victimizes herself – even if she’s clearly as damaged inside as her boyfriend/mack – Tough Love ultimately works as a portrait of a man who was able to channel his rage into a highly lucrative, if highly questionable, existence. It’s not everyday that sexually abused kids manage to surpass their childhood suffering, and in that sense Marquardt – who now runs several karate schools aimed at inner-city youth – can be seen as a hero, and one who still kicks ass.

Production companies: Rosa von Praunheim Filmproduktion
Cast: Andreas Marquardt, Marion Erdmann, Hanno Koffler, Luise Heyer, Katy Karrenbauer
Director: Rosa von Praunheim
Screenwriters: Nico Woche, Jurgen Leme, Rosa von Praunheim, based on the book “HARTE: My Way Out of the Vicious Circle of Violence” by Andreas Marquardt and Jurgen Lemke
Producer: Rosa von Praunheim
Directors of photography: Nicolai Zorn, Elfi Mikesch
Production designers: Marcus Lachmann, Dran Denda, Kim Scharnitzky, Ivana Vukovic
Costume designer: Ingrid Buhrmann
Editor: Rosa von Praunheim
Composer: Andreas Wolter
Casting directors: Marcus Lachmann, Charlotte Siebenrock
Sales agent: M-Appeal

No rating, 89 minutes

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