The review of Great Freedom, a film chosen by Austria to compete for nominations for the Oscars in the “Best International Film” category. Rightfully entering one of the most emotional LGBTQIA+ themed films, Sebastian Meise’s film is about eternal friendship and extreme attraction beyond the bars of a prison.
The first line is pronounced by Hans Hoffmann (Franz Rogowski) nine minutes into the film. Yet in the space of that silence much has been said, understood, suggested, above all about the reason that brought the young man behind bars. Yes, because in 1968, the year of great riots and revolutions (including sexual ones) feeling free to love, or even just desire, members of one’s own sex was something unacceptable, a real crime to be punished with prison. A situation not so changed from the first time Hans was incarcerated in 1945, and again in 1957.
As we will point out in this review of Great Freedom (available on MUBI), the one written by Sebastian Meise is not only an essay on the prison situation of the time, but also a story of friendship that overcomes differences and human fears. A twenty-year-long story, locked up in the space of the same prison, which emphasizes the boundless power of the faithful bond between two shattered souls, stuck in their addictions and misunderstood passions. A cohesive, honest film, worthy of the most penetrating Fassbinder, which was born and comes to life starting from the personal experience of people who, like Hans, find themselves – to paraphrase the incipit of The process by Franz Kafka – “denounced (and imprisoned) without having done anything wrong“.
Great Freedom: The plot
According to article number 175, Hans Hoffmann deserves prison. He deserves prison, as in 1945 he deserved the concentration camp, because he was homosexual. A sentence without justice that will lead him to live in the narrow space of a cell over the course of twenty years. Yet it is precisely behind those bars that Hans will find the only true certainty of his life: his friendship with Viktor. The rest is a conglomeration of passion and attraction, in a continuous struggle between body and soul, head and heart.
Games of looks and inner shadows
It is a film made above all of gazes, Great Freedom. Seductive glances, stripped of useless words and dressed in desire, attraction. Because when the bodies are forced to dress, it is the eyes that undress, revealing thoughts stuck in the mouth, and actions often frozen in the space of mental fantasy. It is precisely to emphasize the emotional significance of each shot that the montage by Joana Scrinzi develops in a gallery composed mostly of close-ups and very close-ups. A succession of close-up shots, almost intimate, designed to capture and capture every little mood change and nuances of emotions held back, but ready to implode.
Playing with narrow shots also means focusing on introspective and penetrating interpretations. A request that the actor Franz Rogowski (already appreciated in works such as Undine – A love forever and Freaks Out) welcomes with wisdom and emotional depth. His Hans is a secure man on the surface, but fragmented on the inside. Surrounded by shadows and nebulous curtains, the bodies of the characters are illuminated by an almost divine light, a bull’s-eye which makes them stand out by detaching them from the surrounding darkness and which slowly swallows them and then regurgitates them, between tears and violence.
Hides of memories and passions
The darkness of a closet, the same cramped as always, becomes a time machine for Hans. Once the door is closed, memories of him take over, so you can relive them, feel them on your skin again. Over the course of twenty years Hans has often ended up in that closet and every time a space-time gap opens in him, so as to analyze, between kicks and threats, his own past made up of mistakes and few certainties. And for Hans, who even managed to experience the illusion of a relationship in the corridors of that prison, the true certainty of him has always been Viktor (Georg Freidrich). From an inner study on the fragility of the single, Great Freedom expands to deal with the complexity of the double.
Yet in outlining this indestructible friendship, the narrative development gets lost in chasing missed epilogues, or turning points as moving as they are predictable. Although useful for the purposes of the story and the economy of the story, certain passages of life between failed lovers and pain fueled by further suffering, distract the viewer’s attention, sidetracking him from what is the ultimate goal of his narration: the story of a birth, development, and continuous obstacles, for two lost souls, who met in the place where all hope is left and the sense of humanity dwindles.
Surrounded by a Caravaggesque photograph, between hopes and compassion, dreams and feelings, Hans and Viktor become opposite poles of a planet that revolves around a star that has now faded, seeking in the strength of their inner core that drive necessary to try again to believe and return out to see the stars again, this time as free men and not just stained by the ink of tattoos and the shadow of their own faults.
We conclude this review of Great Freedom by emphasizing how Sebastian Meise’s film (awarded at the Turin Film Festival in 2021) manages to translate into images a powerful force such as that of an irrepressible passion and a fatal attraction born and ready to flow free even in a narrow space like that of a prison. An above all human story, where friendship mixes with a requested, desired, desired physicality, between two men destined to remain together over the course of twenty years.
Because we like it
- The performances of the two protagonists.
- The hardness of a physical and emotional story.
- The pregnant use of close-ups and very close-ups.
- The use of a Caravaggesque photograph.
- The lack of further insight into the importance of certain events.