Freedom over time
In Sebastian Meise’s Great Freedom-streaming on MUBI-Franz Rogowski plays Hans Hoffman, imprisoned for being gay under Paragraph 175 in post-World War II Germany.
In Sebastian Meise’s Great Freedom-streaming on MUBI-Franz Rogowski plays Hans Hoffman, imprisoned for being gay under Paragraph 175 in post-World War II Germany. The concept of time folds over itself in Great Freedom, we see Hans in prison in 1945, 1949 and 1969. The temporal granularity of the film exposes the conflict beneath the smoothness of the visuals and its celebration of spooned bodies.
The driving force of the film is Hans’s fearlessness, routinely locked up for his deviant-under-the-law behaviour and just as often put under solitary confinement within the prison for his restless nature. Great Freedom also traces the arc of Hans’s relationship with Viktor (Georg Friedrich), his first cellmate and homophobe, and another constant in prison whenever Hans finds his way into it.
Details in the film are out of our grasp for extended sequences. We get tiny information from 1949 to connect to events in 1969. We get 8mm footage of a rare joyous phase in Hans’s life to connect it to his younger version in prison. A tattoo is defaced and shines anew two decades later only for the film to insert a scene from the intervening years when its makeover is completed.
Our haziness about Hans’s times in prison is shared by Viktor’s crisscrossing shallowness towards him, time heals, and time turns him soft, our understanding of the film originates from Viktor’s linear growth that is at odds with the film’s non-linear affectations. Therefore, their friendship, also a mutually beneficial relationship is also linear despite the film’s trajectory.
Rogowski has constructed a career out of playing arresting, uneasy men with tragic pasts and future, specially in films of Christian Petzold. He plays one such character here, acting not just with his face but with his whole body, his unknowing walk on prison floors gradually gaining familiarity over the years and finding ways to love in prison and ever ready to pay the price for it both inside and outside. It’s a fascinating way to measure the passage of time and the growth of a character-during one term Hans uses pages from Bible to send coded messages and in another he uses them to roll his cigarettes.
The sounds of prison and the film’s agony becomes relatable to the level that we share Hans’s lack of enthusiasm in Neil Armstrong’s first steps on moon and his quiet excitement when he learns that Paragraph 175 has been abolished.
Great Freedom paints a picture of how someone can become a prisoner of their circumstances, which is harder to bust out of compared to a maximum-security prison. A detail painted tragically but too beautifully by the ending. An out-of-tune saxophone does not help.