Piotr (Paul Wollin) and Victor (Miguel Dagger) are immigrants and prostitutes living in Cologne. The former, nicknamed Toro (Spanish for ‘bull’) is originally from Poland and services female clients; he is strong, disciplined and withdrawn. The latter is from Spain and services male clients; he is addicted to drugs, irresponsible and careless. Despite their differences, the two nurture a profound friendship, and Toro cares enormously about his light-headed and lost friend.
The background of the story is a vivid and shocking portrait of the sex-scene of Cologne, where derelict quarters, drug-fuelled lives and abject poverty exist side-to-side. The film explores a number of intertwining and controversial themes such as immigration inside the EU, integration, homosexuality, Catholic guilt, prostitution, drugs, violence with very convincing results.
There are no easy answers and flat characters in Toro. Attitudes quickly veer from profound altruism to dysfunctional behaviour and violence, and personalities are difficult to pierce together. Characters seek solutions to their problems in alcohols, drugs, sex, faith or they simply let off steam by hitting a punching bag. The return home (to Poland) is also a central theme. Finally, the Freudian link between narcissism, homosexuality and unrequited love is also exposed.
The director also dodges clichéd characters. For example, female sex clients are powerful and willing, while the strong ‘bull’ is not the Spanish character, but his Polish friend instead. In fact, he behaves more like a chicken. Nothing is as clearcut and obvious as it seems in Toro.
Entirely shot in black-white, Toro has a real gangster feel. In many ways, it is reminiscing of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s early films such as Love is Colder than Death (1968) and Gods of the Plague (1970) with all of its twisted violence and elegantly awkward sex. Differently from Fassbinder, however, Toro does not have Brechtian elements, instead embracing a more realistic acting style.
This riveting movie is the graduation work of Peruvian-born director Martin Hawie at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne. This is a very mature and complex film for a nascent director. It never feels amateurish, vulgar or superficial, instead delivering a real blow to the audience in the end of the film, like a bull hitting a torero. Hawie likely has a very promising career ahead.
Toro was screened this week as part of the German Cinema Perspective Section of the 66th Berlin Film Festival. DMovies is now live at the event, which ends on February 21st.