Germany’s pernicious Paragraph 1675, was part of the German Criminal Code from 15 May 1871 to 10 March 1994. It made homosexual acts between males a crime, and in early revisions, the provision also criminalized bestiality as well as forms of prostitution and underage sexual abuse. All in all, around 140,000 men were convicted under the law
Great Freedom, an incisive and excellent film that is part prison drama and part love story from Austrian filmmaker Sebastian Meise tells the tale of one gay man’s incarceration that on and off lasted for several decades. Based on real events, we see Hans (Franz Rogowski) in 1945 after the end of WW2 being transferred from a Concentration Camp to a civilian prison after having been caught having sex with a man in a public toilet. It’s a habit that he will have trouble breaking even in the future, which will result in him serving almost continual prison sentences.
We witness Han’s recurring encounters with his cellmate Viktor (Georg Friedrich), a convicted murderer who, like all the other inmates totally detests anyone convicted of homosexual offenses. Over the years that relationship changes dramatically as the older Viktor whose applications for Parole are continually rejected, looks to Hans for some basic human contact which at one point will get physical.
Miese shows us the story with flashbacks and we see that Hans who always manages to find have a new, younger boyfriend on subsequent incarcerations, Viktor acts as his mentor and source of support especially when Hans gets in trouble with the prison guards.
Authentically filmed in a real prison in East Germany which adds such realism to the sheer brutality that Hans and others must face due to the existence of this ancient law. It not only makes life impossible for all gay men to lead meaningful lives but empowers and sanctions. relentless homophobia in society, in and outside the jail.
In a beautifully nuanced performance, Rogowski so effectively portrays a man determined to find the love he so desperately needs/wants that in the end, he is willing to accept the punishment that guards will inflict on him. So much so that when Paragraph 165 is finally struck down in 1994 and Hans is no longer deemed a criminal, he discovers that freedom is not at all like he imagined.
Miese’s film really does a great service to the LGBTQ+ community by bringing our attention to this part of our queer history that most of us know so little about. It contributes to our understanding of how our past so helped shape our present and future, and for this alone it so needs to reach the audience it deserves,
Winner of 19 Awards, including Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes, it is Austria’s Official Submission for Academy Award for Best Foreign Picture …… and has already made the shortlist …… we have all our digits crossed
(The film is to be released by MUBI in the US on 21 January 2022)
Labels: 2021, love story, Oscar Nominee, prison drama, Sebastian Miese