There is no need for much dialogue in Great Freedom. Likewise, the music is minimal but significant. What stands out is, first and foremost, a desperate need for love, conveyed to the audience through simple gestures and a well-composed and never excessive direction. At the Viennale 2021.
When we were not free
What is freedom? Freedom is a right that each of us has, a right that is not always granted to us, a right that we strongly feel the need for at the very moment it is denied to us. Freedom is something that, paradoxically, can often also be found inside a prison. Hans (played by Franz Rogowski), the protagonist of the feature film Great Freedom, directed by Sebastian Meise, already presented at the Cannes Film Festival 2021 – within the section Un certain Regard – and re-proposed to the audience on the occasion of the Viennale 2021, knows something about this. In Great Freedom, therefore, Meise tells us first and foremost about the search for freedom, but also about an impossible love. And this important feature film of his – which will be presented by Austria as a candidate for the Oscars 2022 – succeeds perfectly in its aims of moving, but also shocking and making viewers of all ages think.
We find ourselves, then, in 1968. Hans is a homosexual and for this reason was sentenced to two years in prison. This, however, is not the first time the man has been arrested, as he had already been interned in a concentration camp during World War II, only to end up directly in jail once the war was over. During his time in prison, he will meet Viktor (Georg Friedrich), a man in prison for murder, whom he will again meet whenever he serves a sentence.
Hans and Viktor are practically antithetical to each other. Hans is calm and placid, he discovered his homosexuality years before and is willing to do anything to make the people he loves happy. Viktor, on the other hand, may seem grumpy, he cannot live without women, even though he seems resigned to his fate of being in prison for life. Despite his often quarrelsome character, he turns out to be an extremely honest and protective person. Two great protagonists, a universal story and an important chapter in the history of the last century.
Great Freedom shows us a situation that many of us have heard about, but that few really know. A painful story, where apparently there is no place for humanity. And the director, for his part, was perfectly up to the task in staging Hans’ story, opting for an essential but effective approach. An approach in which images, gazes and objects (now a packet of cigarettes, now even a tattoo) often speak for themselves. The camera moves within the cramped cells of a real prison and, at the same time, is able to capture every subtle nuance of the characters’ personalities and feelings.
There is no need for much dialogue in Great Freedom. Likewise, the music is minimal but significant. What stands out is, first of all, a desperate need for love, conveyed to the audience through simple gestures and thanks to a well-composed and never excessive direction. A need for love that finds its ideal fulfilment in the scenes made by Sebastian Meise, that becomes immediately universal, that is perfectly able to speak to everyone. Freedom is something we incredibly need. And yet, sometimes, we can only feel free as ‘prisoners’.
Original title: Große Freiheit
Directed by: Sebastian Meise
Country/year: Austria, Germany / 2021
Running time: 116’
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Anton von Lucke, Thomas Prenn, Johannes Cramer, Ulrich Faßnacht, Alfred Hartung, Klaus Huhle, Andreas Patton, Joachim Schönfeld, Ernst Sigot, Thomas Stecher, Fabian Stumm, Daniel Wagner
Screenplay: Sebastian Meise, Thomas Reider
Cinematography: Crystel Fournier
Produced by: FreibeuterFilm, Rohfilm