Liberation in the burning horrors of the World Wars was a slow process. Rationing in the UK ended in 1954, close to a decade on from its start. For the modern man who lives on caffeine and eggs, such a life is hell. So too is it now, as filmmakers look to take an emotional pop at a war which still lingers in the mind of an older generation proud of sacrifice. It is better to be loved and alive than thankful for sacrifice which was never seen by those who parade it. Historic horrors run through as great triumphs. A bitter pill to swallow when Great Freedom shows the agonising post-war troubles which led those who survived the harshest conditions to be persecuted and imprisoned nonetheless.
Great Freedom is keen and frequently shows the isolation of the late 1960s in Germany, a time when the country was divided and rulings over sexuality and social reform were antiquated by modern standards. This is the reflection of Great Freedom and the benefit of hindsight captures the truth and awful conditions pushed onto those who did not meet a closed and poor cultural narrative. Franz Rogowski’s tour of force continues with a leading portrayal once more. He impressed through the animosity and dead-end fear of In the Aisles and adapts once more to the desperation of love and the fight against the law to feel human. Great Freedom is a valuable piece not just for its message but for its visual style, its impressive capturing of the prison drama, moulded into an emotive, expansive look at German culture.
Keeping this narrative fresh, which at its core is a simple insight into one man, one of many, persecuted by the law for being himself, comes a non-linear experience. In and out of prison Hans Hoffman (Rogowski) goes and with it comes not a lust but a desire for acceptance and pleasure. Georg Friedrich is stellar here also, a firm hand to capture the waves of doubt and third-party guilt pushed onto those used as scapegoats. How disgusting it is those who survived the brutality of the Nazis were locked away and tasked with taking apart the uniforms of those who subjugated them to violence and death. Great Freedom never lets up on the disgust and horror everyday people were presented with, and it is the brutal course of action Sebastian Meise highlights in his vivid direction, his tenderness behind the camera, which works best of all.
Lacking the structure which would pocket Great Freedom as a straight narrative, the efforts in writing and in detailing the interactions and encounters scattered through life are chilling. Meise works hard to cement these moments as reliant on one another but truly isolated, as is his lead. At a time of a cultural overhaul for music and film, it is striking and almost embarrassing, to say the least, that good people were persecuted and imprisoned for actions of their own choice. Hear the whines of a saxophone in a dive bar toward the end of Great Freedom, the finest expression through culture, and it all comes clear. Great Freedom exhibits a tenderness in places of cold brutality and the inevitability of punishment. Striking and emotionally moving through not just the upheaval of its characters but its capturing and focus of a cultural period which still rumbles on through modern history.