Great Freedom is a moving, heartbreaking journey of one man’s life through the prison system, as a 175 convict.
Hans is a convicted homosexual. He comes to prison straight from the concentration camps. Not only were queer men sent to die in the camps, but after the war, survivors were sent back to prison, since, you know, a camp isn’t a prison, so they still have to serve out the rest of their sentence. Hans comes as a half-starved and jittery inmate in the 1940s, and we see him return again the 50s and 60s, each time more confident in his surroundings, more institutionalised. He spends his whole life a crime.
Viktor is his first cellmate, a brutish, homophobic lifer. The initial hostility and aggro settles into begrudging respect, after Viktor offers to cover up his camp tattoo. As Hans cycles in and out of jail, Viktor is the one constant. Although an unlikely pairing, theirs becomes a lifelong friendship.
In some ways, it shows that even a hardened homophobe cannot be as brutal as the systematic regimes of oppression. Viktor is never fully freed of some of his prejudices but he sees the humanity of the other man, he can feel sympathy and compassion in a system that never can.
And this film is both a condemnation of the horrific treatment of gay men in the very recent past, and an ode to their inspiring survival. Because despite everything Hans suffers, he remains kind, he remains unashamed, and he remains capable of love. In some ways this film is about love, how it can be passionate and sexual, how it can be romantic and tender, and how it can be the quiet realisation you cannot live without another.