Hans is a prisoner of paragraph 175. He is convicted under the sodomy article after months in a concentration camp, and regularly finds himself in prison in the years following the war. As he repeatedly loses his freedom, the only relationship he develops is with another prisoner, Viktor, who has been convicted of murder. Life within the damp labyrinthine walls becomes the only existence he understands – punishment, the bodies of gracious strangers, homophobia, solitary confinement, Christian teachings, curfews and tailoring. This stretch of time has a chokehold on Hans’ freedom.
This specific paragraph of German criminal law criminalised sexual acts between men up until 1994 and ruined thousands of lives. The title of Sebastian Meises’s second feature film unsentimentally refers to “Große Freiheit”, a cross street in Hamburg’s red-light district. Hans, played by Franz Rogowski, only briefly finds himself there. The film, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard section, is like a diary depicting a lonely maze-like life from which several pages have been torn out. Stigmatising experiences and the paragraph’s 123-year long history create a paradox in the freedom system: some of us were not born to be free.