The film tells the story of Andreas Marquadt, a handsome karate champ, violent gangster and ex-con. Marquadt’s father tried to kill him as a toddler, his mother sexually abused him from pre-pubescence to the time he left home. Von Praunheim too easily ‘explains’ Marquadt’s career as a brutal, manipulative pimp in the light of this past. Certainly Marquadt himself, now married to the one girl he exploited who still stuck by him in jail, finds an excuse for his subsequent brutality to others in his childhood experiences. These, however, are the worst aspects of the film.
The reason to see Tough Love is the dexterity with which Von Praunheim tells this story, easily moving from a post-rehab present shot as documentary in colour to a black-and-white re-enactment, compellingly dramatised by Von Praunheim. The sex scenes are clinical, distanced, objective. Sex here is always about something else, usually power, domination, the with-holding of love. Von Praunheim’s great achievement is firstly to get such superb performances from Hanno Koffler as the young Marquadt; Louise Hayer, who looks like Romy Schneider and is very charismatic as Marion Erdmann, the 16 year-old who falls for and is victimised by Marquadt but who ends up staying by him; and Katy Karrenbauer as the loving, abusive and manipulative mom. Von Praunheim and his cast, working with sketchy, fake, indicative, sets, make the people and the past live and breathe; they reveal; with humour, understanding and compassion; where the documentary footage of Marquandt explains, excuses, hides, reveals only in refracted form and only what he wants to present himself as. The real Erdmann, masochistic, romantic, charismatic; a living embodiment of German Romanticism made flesh now, is very enthralling.
Von Praunheim makes films that always seem a slight mish-mash, they’re never perfect, and yet they’re often more compassionate, empathetic, understanding and memorable; more accepting of people’s many failings, and more willing to explore them deeper and in more original forms than many other, more celebrated filmmakers. I was delighted to see Tough Love, recommend it, and am grateful to the Festival des films du monde in Montreal to have created a context in which I could re-encounter the work of such a fascinating filmmakers after so many years. There should be more Von Praunheim shown in Britain. In fact a career retrospective is long overdue.
Seen at the Festival des films du monde, September 2015