Franz Rogowski is magnificent in this moving drama which spans 25 years of German post-war queer history. He plays Hans, a gay man who refuses to compromise his life, despite the horrors of Paragraph 175 of the German Criminal Code, which made homosexual acts between men a crime. The story slowly builds, moving between 1945, 1954 and 1969 (when the law was eased, although it was not repealed until 1994).
The film opens with scenes of men cottaging in toilets, before we see Hans returned to a prison which he clearly knows well, weary but resigned to his fate, and soon in an obviously familiar solitary confinement cell. As the story moves between the decades, we see various of Hans’s lovers, both in and out of jail, but we also see his relationship with his first cell mate. Viktor (Georg Friedrich) starts out as a homophobic, staunchly heterosexual character, a convicted murderer under a life sentence. But slowly, over the years, as Hans comes in and out of his life, a friendship develops between the pair.
Hans’s story of course doesn’t start in 1945 – gay men were persecuted by the Nazis – and the sweep of history is vital in this devastating film. But the tragedy is tempered by optimism with the resilience of the men involved and the human connections, of sex and friendship, which sustain them through the dark years. Franz Rogowski is mesmerising.
Great Freedom (Große Freiheit) is in UK cinemas from today.