Great freedom: an intense prison film [critique]

Sebastian Meise recounts the ordeal of homosexuals in post-war Germany in a film carried by Franz Rogowski, “the German Joaquin Phoenix”.

The “Great Freedom” of the title is that of which homosexuals in Germany were deprived because of Paragraph 175 of the Civil Code, decreed in 1872 and only repealed in 1969. If we know that homosexuals were persecuted by the regime Nazi, it is often ignored that those of them who survived the concentration camps did not regain their freedom after the war, but were transferred to prison in order to finish serving their legal sentence. A nightmarish phenomenon recounted in Great Freedom through the journey of Hans Hoffmann, a gay man who leaves prison only to return better, shown at three points in his story, in 1945, 1957 and 1969. The director Sebastian Meise escapes the horizon of the thesis film thanks to to his very elegant way of slipping from one era to another, from one sentence to another – a sophisticated construction which allows him to describe 25 years of history of the repression of homosexuality in Germany as an absurd promenade in a temporal labyrinth, without beginning or end. The outside world remains off-screen in this mute, meticulous prison film, which, almost paradoxically, takes advantage of a certain gentleness. This is embodied above all in the romantic face and feline manners of Franz Rogowski, a sort of German cousin of Joaquin Phoenix, who had already met at Christian Petzold’s (Transit, Undine) or Terrence Malick (A hidden life). Beautiful film with quiet classicism, Great Freedom won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at the last Cannes festival and represents Austria in the race for the Oscars.

By Sebastian Meise. With Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Anton von Lucke… Duration 1h56. Released February 9, 2022

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