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Great Freedom

Director: Sebasatian Meise

Stars: Franz Rogowski, Georg Friedrich, Thomas Prenn, Anton von Lucke

Unfolding over three time periods, this deftly-executed drama revolves around the relationship between an imprisoned, unapologetically gay man, and a fellow con. It start with whirring projector footage of some gay men cottaging in a German bathroom. It is revealed that this is recorded police footage at the 1968 trial of Hans Hoffman (Rogowski). The blasé-seeming Hoffman’s quiet acceptance of the jury’s guilty verdict suggests that this is not his first time in trouble with the law. In prison he encounters Viktor (Friedrich) an older inmate and murderer with whom Hans shares a history. The film flashes back to their first meeting in 1945 when Hans, a ‘175-er’ (a code given to gay men by the Nazis), is transferred from a concentration camp to civilian prison, following the Allies’ victory. On their first meeting, new cellmate, the homophobic Viktor, demands, in vain, to be moved to another cell and behaves threateningly towards Hans. He later comes to respect his cellmate’s bravery and uncompromising nature and offers to tattoo over Hans’ concentration camp number. Austrian director Meise locates Genet-style moments of grace in the wretched dank prison setting, while skilfully juggling the chronology (there are also sequences set in the late 50s) with his actors managing to convey the passing of time and the weathering effects of experience with minimal makeup. The always excellent Rogowski, probably better known for playing more soft-spoken characters, delivers a career-best performance as the defiant Hans, and Friedrich is equally impressive, with Viktor’s gruff, tough exterior belying a real sensitivity and sense of comradeship.

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