Rosa von Praunheim long ago transitioned out of the enfant terrible moniker, and yet an element of subversion remains: In our unforgiving era of cynicism and finger-pointing, perhaps his most subversive trait is a refusal to pass judgment. “Tough Love” is a semi-dramatized bio-docu about karate champ, pimp and ex-con Andreas Marquardt, a bundle of damaged goods if ever there was one, and yet von Praunheim, with his inelegant shifts, camp sensibilities, and overall good nature, extends a hand of sympathy. Most auds may question whether it’s deserved, but the helmer’s fans — for whom this is made — will be more forgiving.
Apart from the Rosettes, though, it’s hard to know how this can be marketed. Readers of “Andy” Marquardt’s 2007 autobiography will be familiar with the sordid details of incest, prostitution and violence, yet will they be the right audience for the helmer’s still-gleeful outrageousness, featuring a fair amount of naked flesh and a large, lovingly lubed dildo? Similarly, will gay fests — long von Praunheim’s primary international outlet — be willing to program a film with zero gay content, despite its strong queer makeup?
The pic shifts between recently shot color footage and black-and-white re-creations, opening with Marquardt today, age 58, talking about the origins of his brutal nature, starting with a father so abusive he tried to kill his infant son and later crushed his fingers. In the dramatization, Andy’s father (Steffen Bielig) is kicked out fairly early, and Mom (Katy Karrenbauer, sporting a bouffant to make John Waters smile) moves them in with her parents. The change saved Marquardt’s life, but the psychological damage was only beginning: His mother began stimulating him sexually when he was 6, and by the time he was 12 they were having full intercourse.
Once an adult (played by Hanno Koffler, “Free Fall”) and on his own, he falls under the influence of a bunch of hoods, first becoming their thug and then a pimp in his own right. The script completely sidelines Marquardt’s karate activities during the era, focusing instead on his gut-deep misogyny, luring women into prostitution through a mix of coddling and violence. Then he meets Marion Erdmann (Luise Heyer), just 16, and he grooms her to work in a brothel as soon as she turns 18 (one wonders whether Marquardt really waited before tricking her out). Marion is also loaded with a history of sexual abuse as a child, but while she opens up about this to him, he’s not willing to reveal his own twisted background.
The real Erdmann is here, still by Marquardt’s side, and her hard-to-explain combination of severe masochism and strength of character makes her the most interesting figure in the pic. The depths of degradation Andy puts her through are deeply disturbing, and she exhibits classic traits of victimization, yet von Praunheim doesn’t aim for psychoanalytical profiling, at least not for Erdmann. The same can’t be said for Marquardt, whose extremely violent behavior is very much ascribed to his upbringing. Now, after eight years in the slammer and the help of a therapist, he’s apparently dealt with his past, and with loyal Erdmann by his side, they’re living the life of any “normal” couple.
Black-and-white sequences (von Praunheim again collaborates with longtime d.p. Elfi Mikesch and more recent affiliate Nicolai Zoern) have a deliberately stagy B-movie feel, very much in keeping with the director’s retro-camp aesthetic. Rudimentary sets are completed by wallpaper printed with photos of period-appropriate room furnishings, cleverly adding depth while maintaining the theatricality of it all. Digital quality is, as expected, not exactly top-grade.
Berlin Film Review: 'Tough Love'
Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Panorama Special), Feb. 6, 2015. Running time: 89 MIN. (Original title: Haerte”)
(Documentary — Germany) A MissingFilms release of a Rosa von Praunheim Filmproduktion, WDR, RBB, Arte production. (International sales: M-Appeal, Berlin.) Produced by Rosa von Praunheim. Co-producers, Goetz Schmedes, Cooky Ziesche, Jens Stubenrauch, Barbara Haebe.
Directed by Rosa von Praunheim. Screenplay, Nico Woche, Juergen Lemke, von Praunheim, based on the book “Tough Love: My Life Out of the Vicious Circle of Violence” by Andreas Marquardt, Juergen Lemke. Camera (color/B&W), Nicolai Zoern, Elfi Mikesch; editor, Mike Shephard; music, Andreas Wolter; production designers, Marcus Lachmann, Dragan Denda, Kim Scharnitzky; Ivana Vukovic; costume designers, Ingrid Buhrman, Christian Fritz; sound, Thomas Schrader, Timo Kahlenberg; line producers, Markus Tiarks, Martin Kruppe, Oliver Wissmann, Joergen Radach; assistant director, Marian Dorbic; casting, Marcus Lachmann, Charlotte Siebenrock.
Hanno Koffler, Andreas Marquardt, Marion Erdmann, Luise Heyer, Katy Karrenbauer, Ruediger Goetze, Ilse Amberger Bendin, Steffen Bielig.