Sebastian Meise directs the affecting drama “Great Freedom.” From Germany, this is a brisk character study of two men in prison after WWII. To its credit, it doesn’t hold back.
Hans (Franz Rogowski) is imprisoned simply for being gay. He is reserved and keeps to himself. One day he encounters his cell mate Viktor (Georg Fredrich) a crude macho and aggressive man. He is homophobic and has sudden episodes of rage. By all appearances, Viktor can’t tolerate Hans but he grows closer to the quiet soul. Hans is in an existential position: he is imprisoned repeatedly for his sexual orientation, titled Paragraph 175. We see both men evolve. In 1945 Hans is open, but by 1968, he grows reserved and inward. By contrast Victor becomes more open and empathetic.
Periodically in the film, Hans is smitten by his friend Oskar (Thomas Preen). In a surreal touch, Hans communicates by a secret code found in the Bible.
Though difficult to watch (there is a heroin scene and one featuring vomit), the film authentically explores the plight of being gay under a repressive government.
There are echoes of Wilde’s The Ballad of Reading Gaol here. Hans is surrounded by gray cement and high walls. There is no way out it seems.
Viktor is not quite the aggressor he appears to be or is he? Hans suggests an escape and Victor declines.
Hans does get out but he is under the gaze of males and he feels awkward and uncomfortable. He misses Viktor.
“Great Freedom” is humbly authentic. This is one of the most emotive films featuring all men. One gets the full picture of these characters and the actors are a joy to watch.
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