Films you can't miss: Great Freedom

Eva Mackevic 9 March 2022

A harrowing drama about forbidden love starring the formidable talent that is Franz Rogowski

Hans Hoffman (Franz Rogowski) is a gay manliving in post-war Germany, who gets continuously imprisoned for his homosexuality. We follow his fortunes during three different prison stints, spread across a couple of decades, each marked by a different romantic connection.

Viktor—his gruff, intimidating cellmate—is the most durable yet complex one. Though his initial reaction to Hans is one of repulsion, expressed via violent beatings and verbal abuse, something shifts within Viktor when he notices his cellmate’s arm bearing a chilling tattoo—the serial number from a concentration camp. “They deported you homos, too. They sent you straight to prison from that place?” he asks in disbelief. The Allies might have liberated the country, but it didn’t mean freedom for everyone, you see. Viktor offers to cover up the tattoo with what ends up being a shapeless, blotchy patch made with charcoal-ink and a sewing needle, yet it becomes a symbol of their unlikely new kinship.

"The film refuses to be a straight-up 'against all odds' love story"

Great Freedom is an intelligent character study, set almost entirely in the same prison building—a dark, damp, soulless place that the nimble cast lights up with tenderness, emotion and searing eroticism. Rogowski gives an outstanding performance, carrying the weight of Hans’ existence with dignity, quiet defiance and an unbreakable capacity for love.

The film’s biggest strength though, lies in its ambiguity; it refuses to be a straight-up “against all odds” love story, underpinning Hans’ every relationship with uncertainty and ambivalence—a fact of life that he comes to accept in some of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes