Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia
It’s the 60s and Hans (Franz Rogowski) is once more arrested and imprisoned for “sexual deviancy”, for having sex with other men. It’s not the first time, and back in prison, he quickly settles into the routine when he sees two familiar faces. One is Leo (Anton von Lucke), one of the men Hans had sex with, a young teacher utterly lost in prison life. The other is Viktor (Georg Friedrich) with whom Hans shares a long history, and a connection that runs deep – and becomes deeper still.
Große Freiheit is a sensitive film with great performances about a horrific part of (German) legal history. And it’s also a beautiful love story.
Paragraph 175, the paragraph that is the reason for Hans’ stints in prison, that criminalizes gay sex, was a piece of law that existed until the 1990s in Germany (although in the all-encompassing form only until the 60s). It took until 2017 that people who were convicted on the basis of that paragraph were formally rehabilitated. But that is not all. §175 existed well before the Nazis came to power in Germany, but the Nazis made it a lot harsher. And §175 was the only bit of law that wasn’t reset to its pre-Nazi form in 1945. This also meant that queer prisoners of concentration camps weren’t actually freed by the allied forces, only transferred to other prisons.
Große Freiheit shows pretty much all of that history in Hans’ story, giving us an idea of the emotional impact this had on the men who were convicted (or at risk of being convicted) for being queer and acting on it. But it’s not a history lesson disguised as a feature film, it is only interested in the history because Hans (and Viktor) are affected by it.
At its heart, it’s a love story, and a genuinely queer love story at that. The love between Hans and Viktor goes against everything that prison works for, it blurs the boundaries between friendship and romance and doesn’t want to fit any traditional ideas of what relationships are supposed to be. It is portrayed with astounding sensitivity by both Rogowski and Friedrich (an absolute dream cast) who really seem to have found each other.
That, coupled with the softness of Hans’ outright romantic relationships despite all circumstances, give Große Freiheit an eloquent emotional core that make it a strong statement that condemns §175 and its history, homomisia in general, and ultimately prisons themselves.
Summarizing: touching and beautiful.