Sebastian Meise’s Great Freedom, one of our highlights from last year’s Cambridge Film Festival, arrives on MUBI today and is this week’s Friday Night Film pick.
Set in Germany’s post-war years, this slow-burning, bold LGBT film details the persecution of Hans Hoffman, a homosexual sent straight from the Nazi concentration camps to prison in 1945. Germany’s draconian law that criminalized homosexuality was in full force until 1969, and the film’s nonlinear narrative structure moves through Hoffman’s three spells in prison for indecent acts over different time periods. Once imprisoned, Hoffman befriends fellow inmate Viktor and over the following decades, we witness an intimate bond grow between them.
Despite the claustrophobic and cold state of their surroundings, actors Franz Rogowski and Georg Friedrich breathe so much life into their characters that you can’t help but feel a sense of warmth and hope. Great Freedom does not rely on high melodrama to impose its emotional beats, the characters are so nuanced and natural in their interactions with each other that it’s easy to believe in their journey. Moments that might appear light on meaning early on become pronounced later as their relationship develops.
The power of the film lies in its understated and subtle filmmaking. The attention to detail as we switch to different time periods, from the aging make-up of the leads to the current political situation seeping into the dialogue, and the richness of the images on screen exudes authenticity. The environments feel so lived in and it becomes one of those experiences that feels difficult to remove yourself from.