Great Freedom – post-war German film with a queer twist
Great Freedom takes place in post-war Germany, a time when liberation by the Allies didn’t mean freedom for everyone. Hans is imprisoned again and again under Paragraph 175, a law that criminalized homosexuality for 123 years. Those convicted were sentenced to prison terms of up to ten years. During the postwar years 100,000 men were brought to trial in West Germany alone.Over the course of decades, he develops an unlikely yet tender bond with his cellmate.
The film paints a stirring portrait of gay resistance and resilience in post-war Germany. Unfolding across three decades, this drama traces the repeated imprisonment of one man solely based on his sexual orientation. After being “liberated” by Allied forces in 1945, Hans is transferred directly from a concentration camp to prison to finish out his sentence. There, he forms an unlikely connection with his cellmate Viktor, a convicted murder. As Hans is jailed again and again, a relationship that begins with revulsion blossoms into something far more tender.
To even think that this film is based on a true story, makes you wonder what the government were thinking. Obviously, they weren’t. First off, incarcerating someone for the sole reason of their sexual orientation was based on ignorance and fear, and nothing else. Secondly, having all these “homosexuals” imprisoned in the same facility, and “tagged” as such to openly identify them for their “crime”, most certainly would have the opposite effect of trying to rid the country of this abhorrent behaviour.
The film runs a bit long clocking in around the 2-hour mark, and is a bit clunky to follow as scenes are always done in chronological order. It should also be noted that this not a typical downtrodden war drama, as it plays out with a bit of humour, tenderness, and even at some points, absurd. There’s not one actor that stands out for an extraordinary performance, and the film itself falls short of Oscar material, even though it has been submitted as an official 2022 selection. This story needs to be told, but it could have been done differently, and in less time.
Sensual yet arresting, Austria’s official submission to the 2022 Academy Awards turns a humanist eye towards a heartrending past. Anchored by a transformative star turn from Franz Rogowski (Transit), Great Freedom weaves together intimate moments across time to form a personal and political epic. In the process, this Cannes prize winner triumphs as a searing depiction of love in the face of injustice. A hit on the film festival circuit, it has also won many other awards.
Streaming on Mubi
Director’s Statement – Sebastian Meise
Imagine a world where love is forbidden by law and punished with imprisonment. What sounds like a dystopia was reality for gay men in Germany till the late 1960s. Paragraph 175 allowed the state to persecute homosexuals, which it did with great effort and meticulousness. This significant historical fact was completely new to me until I read reports about gay men who were liberated from concentration camps by the Allies, but were transferred straight to prison to serve their remaining sentences. Their persecution would not be over for them for decades.
This was the starting point of our story. Our main character, Hans, exemplifies the many fates of men who ended up in prison over and over again, whose lives and relationships were destroyed, and whose stories disappeared in the files of bureaucracy. Hans’ story is told based on his imprisonment. The walls and bars become a recurring constant that turns into a never-ending time loop. Hans can’t stop being who he is. He needs to continue because love is the essence of human nature. His very existence is rebellion.
In prison, of all places, Hans finally finds love. And of all the people he could possibly imagine, he finds it with Viktor, a convicted murderer. In a tentative rapprochement, these two men, who could not be more different, learn to respect each other and eventually become confidants. Over the decades, an unexpected intimacy grows between them, and in the end they find themselves in a relationship that eludes definition. These two men, who are stigmatized for life, meet in their longing for love and freedom. A longing that, however strong the oppression may be, will always find a way
About the Author
Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.