Almost a decade has passed since Austria won an Oscar with Michael Haneke’s Amour, but Sebastian Meise’s well-received third feature Great Freedom is gaining global acclaim after bagging the Un Certain Regard jury prize earlier this year at Cannes.
Set in postwar Germany, the pic tells the story of Hans (Franz Rogowski), who is imprisoned time and again for his sexuality. Due to Paragraph 175, which prohibited homosexual acts in Germany, Hans’ desire for freedom is systematically destroyed. However, he finds solace in the one steady relationship in his life: that with his long-time cellmate, Viktor (Georg Friedrich).
Speaking to us during the film’s panel at Contenders Film: International, Meise said it was initially a “shock” to research the subject of Paragraph 175. “In Germany alone, at least 100,000 lives were destroyed in this way. It was a bit of a shock to know nothing about it, but we did many interviews with people who had experienced this back in the ’60s or who had experienced being imprisoned for being gay.”
At the heart of the narrative is the friendship between the two prisoners, a bond Rogowski claims to be “real” and “inspiring.” The closeness between the actors even saw them sharing a cell during shooting hours.
“For me, I always come with a lot of respect towards the characters,” Rogowski, a rising actor, said. “I don’t know how it must have felt to be under such levels of structural violence, not being able to live your love or relationships in freedom, but I had a lot of respect for the character and what he’s gone through.”
The film, Austria’s official submission to the International Feature Oscar race, will be released by Mubi theatrically in the U.S. and UK on March 4.
Check out the panel video above.