Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Queer Cinema: The Tenderness of Wolves

What is this, the 400th installment in the Queer Cinema series? Something like that. Today: Hey, that's not pork! (I originally posted this in March.)

Post-war Germany was an unpleasant place, especially with Fritz Haarman running around.

Fritz liked boys, preferably somewhere between 13 and 20 years old. Though, he was not at all averse to those half that age, should he find one. Yes, he liked boys. He liked to have sex with them and kill them. Not always in that order either.

When he was through with them, Fritz (Kurt Raab) would butcher the lads and give the "pork chops" to his friends. They never questioned his unending supply of The Other White Meat. Maybe they were just happy to have something to eat beside sawdust soup.

The film moves at a deliberate pace, following Fritz as he cons and hustles during the day, and preys on runaways at night. His neighbors may be suspicious, but the cops aren't, due in large part to Fritz being an undercover informant for them. It's only after the bodies start stacking up and the city verges on panic that the police take a closer look at their best snitch.

The most unsettling aspect of the film may be Raab's performance. His Fritz isn't the despicable monster you might expect. He's actually kind of likable, and his ineffectual manner makes him seem harmless. But maybe that was the point. Real life monsters rarely appear as such; they don't reveal themselves until it is far too late.

That's the kicker, too: This is based on a true story.

Save for one gruesome scene, the violence here occurs off screen. Personally, that's okay with me, as I didn't much need to actually see the murders to find the film engaging. Though, rumor has it the German print runs nearly 15 minutes longer than the American edition, for better or for worse.

If you can stomach the subject matter, this is a worthwhile film. Excellent performances all around, especially Raab and (his frequent collaborator) Fassbinder.

Directed by Ulli Lommel • Unrated • 1973 • 82 minutes

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