VIFF 2015 Review: Tough Love (Härte)
Tough Love is a film that tells a story of a life no one would want to have but turns out shining in the end.
The film begins with 59 year-old Andreas Marquardt heading a karate school in Berlin. He’s a former World champion and he enjoys teaching young children. Parents are very trustworthy of him despite his past. It’s after this introduction that we learn of his shady past.
Andreas was born in Berlin in 1956. His father was abusive to the point he poured a bucket of cold water on him on a winter’s day when he was an infant. His mother divorced his father but that didn’t prevent his father from abusing him again. One time his father taught him how to handshake and squeezed his hand so hard he broke three of Andreas’ bones. Abuse wasn’t just with his father. He lived with his mother and grandparents. His mother would ask him to do sexual favors that were, in a word, unspeakable.
It’s not to say, Andreas was devoid of a proper parent figure. His grandparents played that role. At sixteen, Andreas finally moved out on his own. He pursued a job of pimping as a way to provide a living and pay for his karate training. He also took a job at a funeral home as a way to hide his pimp money from the taxman. One day in the late 70’s, there was a 16 year-old girl who would change his life. Her name was Marion. At first Andreas asked her to do sexual favors and even be one of his hookers under his wing. She agreed however had the feeling she would win his love one day.
This would go on for many years. Marion would continue to work for Andreas but also try to win his love. There were two instances like a Christmas and a breakfast in bed that Marion tried to send him the message of her love but Andreas reacts violently to it and insists she works the business. Later on, Marion takes the witness stand against her father for sexual abuse. Andreas is in the stands and he is surprised to see how her abuse story almost mirrors his own. He’s even given a wake-up call when he sees Marion lying on the streets one night after nearly being beaten to death.
However Andreas’ problems don’t end there. Eventually the police do catch up with his antics and he is arrested in 1994 and put into prison for four years. Marion is able to run a gym that he owns and even sends him a message outside the prison walls that she’s on his mind. Another incident leads Andreas to an additional four years in prison. During that time, he sees his mother for the last time and tells her off just weeks before she dies. Once released from prison, Andreas begins a change of heart and leaves the prostitution business behind. The one thing of it that wasn’t left behind was Marion. It became clear to him she was his soul mate. To this day Andreas doesn’t miss his pimping business.
The thing with this film is that it appears like it’s trying to be both a documentary and a live-action drama. It flashes from Andreas talking of his shady past, in which he also wrote a book on in which this film is based, to the past being acted out by actors. It may have been done before but it’s a question on whether it was done right. I know the director Rosa von Praunheim also included some other creative choices like images of furniture painted on the walls of the setting rather than actual furniture props. I feel that was presented well. I don’t know if the images of furniture worked with this film.
Another choice that had me wondering was if it was a smart choice not to have the actors playing Andy and Marion–Hanno Koffler and Luise Heyer– age. As you probably saw, the actors don’t age chronologically as the timeline passed over the 25 year span. I just wonder in von Praunheim had that as a point to the film.
One choice of von Praunheim’s in which I give her credit for is making the audience Andy during the childhood drama scenes instead of hiring an actor to play Andy. Like how we see Andy’s father looking at us as he gives Andy his bone braking handshake or how his mother looks at us as she’s molesting him or eve oralizing him. Yes, I’m sure people don’t like seeing those kinds of images of children abused whether in fiction or real life. I think it was decided to have the audience be Andy instead for the sake of the sensitive nature. It had to be told but it had to be made watchable.
One thing I think von Praunheim is trying to do in the film is not just tell Andy’s story but also to show how this story is all too common. We hear the story all the time of children who are sexually abused by their parents or other people and they grow up to make the bad choice of going into jobs of ill repute. It’s a story we see all too often. Even seeing what his mother did to him makes you think that where he got his misogyny from. I myself believe that a lot of misogynist men probably adopted that attitude or a hatred toward women from an unhealthy home life. Including Andy’s feelings into the film adds to the theme. You can see in his face why he can’t forgive his parents for what they did to him. Hard feelings run deep. You could easily see in the drama why Andy has feelings to his grandfather when he dies but none to his mother.
However there are times I think of this film to be as much about Marion as it is about Andreas. Andreas became a shady person but it was Marion who felt love for him from the start and knew she would be his one day. It was surprising she was willing to make a prostitute for him of herself during that time. It’s also very unfortunate she had to deal with the verbal and physical abuse from Andreas all those years. Most people would say it would be foolish for a woman to stay with such an abusive man. Even I would want Marion to leave him. However she saw something in him that she knew he was worth loving and worth staying with. The film left me convinced Marion was a godsend to Andreas. The film even left me thinking as well this may be Andreas’ love letter to Marion.
The film does an ambitious job of trying to mesh drama pieces and interview pieces to both make the story come alive and tell the facts. Even taking Andreas back to key places in his life like the prison or the street corner of his arrest or even the cemetery grass area where he scattered his mother’s ashes is another ambitions technique too. I will admit I did question the choices and even the frequency as it goes from drama to documentary. However I would find it hard for me to make better choices. Hanno Koffler and Luise Hayer were good choices to play Andy and Marion. They did well in their roles but they could have aged physically as the time line progressed. Katy Karrenbauer was good as Andy’s mother. She made you want to hate her.
Tough Love tells a story of a life damaged, of a life causing hurt and of a life redeemed, and of the woman that saw the beauty inside the beast. It’s a story that mixes documentary-style interviewing with drama to deliver a story that’s dark and ugly but ends on a beautiful note.