Time and time again, across history and across societies, homophobia and its violence has always been upheld by the law. In Sebastian Meise’s Great Freedom, the law is Paragraph 175, a subsection of Germany’s criminal code that outlawed homosexual acts between men until the late 1960s. Told through the eyes of Hans Hoffmann (Franz Rogowski on magnificently sensitive form) and split across three timelines spanning the aftermath of World War II through to 1969, Great Freedom’s exploration of queer oppression is a forceful accusation of structural power, of the entanglements between the carceral state and systemic vulnerability.

Hairstyles change and people age but the three timelines blur together as Meise keeps the exploitation of the prison system a monotonous constant that is unyielding, if a little meandering: inmates sitting in rows at sewing machines, inmates circling the same prison yard across decades, inmates trapped in solitary confinement, an acute air of stagnancy filling the air.

The largely austere approach is interrupted only by two flickering films – one depicting Hans cruising in a dingy public toilet, the other of Hans with his lover – that articulate both the terror of queer visibility in the public sphere, and the relentless desire to act freely within its spaces. Some of the most arresting moments occur when queer sexuality emerges in the prison itself, although the film’s central relationship falters when its fascinating ambiguity transforms into something more narratively predictable.

There is a tension throughout Great Freedom behind this teleology and a more effective ambivalence, encapsulated by the strange ending that somewhat undermines the rest of the film’s brunt. Yet Meise’s determination to show history in all its stained reality has real power, a tense, moving portrait of masculinity struggling against the bounds of violence and punishment in which it is placed.

RATING: 3/5


INFORMATION

CAST: Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Anton von Lucke

DIRECTOR: Sebastian Meise 

WRITERS: Sebastian Meise, Thomas Reider

SYNOPSIS: A young gay man is sent to prison three times in the days of Germany’s Paragraph 175.

[TRAILER COMING SOON]