Review: Great Freedom

Written and directed by Sebastian Meise, co-written by Thomas Reider, in post-war Germany, Hans is imprisoned again and again for being homosexual. The one steady relationship in his life becomes his long time cell mate, Viktor, a convicted murderer. Starring: Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Anton von Lucke and Thomas Prenn.

Franz Rogowski is one of the most consistently brilliant and compelling actors of today, and one who does not receive the appreciation that he deserves. He superbly taps into the complexities of each of his characters, and Hans is certainly no exception. Rogowski displays both his fighting spirit and confidence, and his vulnerability and insecurities. His refusal to conform or compromise who he is for the authorities pushes him to rebel almost to the point of self-punishment. Hans is a kind, intelligent but broken man, a product of a world constantly telling him that his existence is wrong. There’s a great mix of ups and downs for viewers, seeing moments of his strength and resilience, versus seeing his moments of severe weakness both physically and mentally.

Each relationship he builds represents something different, with Viktor (Friedrich) what starts out volatile moves into a genuine connection after they find common ground. Georg Friedrich explores an evolution of Viktor, the man we meet is not the man we leave at the credits, it’s an overt change but a natural, sweet and touching progression. Rogowski and Friedrich have a wonderful chemistry, which similarly evolves throughout resulting in something sincerely moving. Hans’ relationships with Leo (Lucke) and Oskar (Prenn) are much more as you’d expect but they’re hugely intensified by the unforgiving environment, to become something much larger than any usual romance.

One of the most surprising elements of Great Freedom is that despite the dark and harrowing nature of its story, it never takes on an overwhelming grit, it always has an edge of hope. Sebastian Meise and Thomas Reider have written this story in such a way to capture the cold, hateful, unrelenting environment while keeping an intimacy, humour and relatability. The progression isn’t always smooth, the transitions of time can be slightly blunt but regardless, it holds your attention easily throughout. Its tone is heartfelt, it expertly balances the sexual desire, violence, isolation, depression and hope of its story.

Meise’s direction presents an interesting blend of styles, the brief moments Hans spends outside of prison are extremely different to the rest of the film. It’s a very restricted environment to bring through a strong colour but Meise still succeeds in capturing a sharp visual. It taps into the gravity and desperation of the story, creating an impactful atmosphere, while never falling in too deep. It’s a thin line to walk between the dark and sweet sides of this story but the filmmakers achieve that flawlessly.

Great Freedom is unexpectedly sweet and funny, bringing an intimacy and hope through its seemingly unending captivity. Franz Rogowski gives a powerful, heart-breaking and touchingly genuine performance, alongside a wonderful supporting cast. It’s visually strong, moves at a perfect pace and is as entertaining as it is tragic.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of London Film Festival 2021

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