Great Freedom 2023 film poster

Great Freedom (Große Freiheit) Film review

Why I took it off the list:

After recently watching Ira Sach’s Passages (2023) and being impressed by Franz Rogowskis’s performance in it, I decided to check out what else the German actor had done.

That led me to Great Freedom. Set in a German prison in the years following WWII, it sounded like quite a harrowing drama. But with Pride Month fast approaching, I thought it sounded like a gay love story worth checking out.

So, let’s dig in!

Review of Great Freedom (2021)

Great Freedom starts with what looks like footage of a vintage home movie, except that it’s taken from inside the mirror of a public bathroom in postwar West Germany. In it, we see the comings and goings of the men who frequent the locale – in particular one gentleman, Hans (Rogowski), who seems quite bold in his obvious picking-up of men.

The film then pulls back to reveal that said footage is being presented as evidence in his trial for obscene behavior, and that this is far from Hans’ first offense. He soon ends up in jail, and from an interaction with another prisoner, we realize that this is far from his first time in the slammer either.

Right from the jump, it’s clear that he is an incredibly bullheaded character who isn’t going to do what’s in his best interest, namely hide his highly sexual nature. This could prove to be incredibly frustrating with a protagonist in any other kind of setting.

But the fact that he refuses to bend against the intolerance and cruelty of a time before homosexuality was decriminalized is pretty admirable and commendable. You really feel the unjustness that this person has literally ‘been sent straight from a concentration camp to prison’, as one character puts it.

A Powerful and Well-Acted Drama

Great Freedom‘s story doesn’t unfold in a linear fashion. Instead, we jump back and forth from different periods in Hans’ imprisonment. We see his various attempts to forge ahead with finding love with the other inmates against the impossible conditions of a brutal prison environment.

But one love in particular really stands out and forms the backbone of the narrative: his tentative, slow-forming relationship with a hardened, initially homophobic murderer.

In most films you would be shouting for the lead to get as far away from a dangerous convicted killer as possible. Here, you can’t help but feel enraptured as these 2 troubled souls begin to break down each other’s walls.

To the credit of both the filmmakers and the actors, the bond they form is believable and weirdly life-affirming. Even if it is merely forged through necessity and circumstance.

When the action finally reaches 1969, and you realize the relationship is destined to crumble, you feel the sadness of both parties. And the ending, while maybe a bit morally questionable, is certainly satisfying.

Final score: 8/10

Great Freedom (2021): Worth Watching?

Yes, Great Freedom is a tough watch due to its grueling setting and subject matters, but it’s a powerful and affecting drama and gay love story that shows the irrepressible nature of the human spirit.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.