DIR: Stephan Lacant • Wri: Stephan Lacant, Karsten Dahlem • Pro: Christoph Holthof, Daniel Reich • DOP: Sten Mende • ED: Monika Schindler • MUS: Dürbeck & Dohmen • DES: Petra Bock-Hofbauer • CAST: Hanno Koffler, Max Riemelt, Attila Borlan
Freefall is released in cinemas on 31st January. If I weren’t in the red, I’d probably sail-and-rail my way to King’s College Chapel, London, and spend the day celebrating Derek Jarman’s 72nd birthday. For 24 hours, his 1985 film The Angelic Conversation will play on the chapel walls. Visitors are free to come and go as they please. For the rest of 2014, actually, there’s a lot on to commemorate Jarman, inaugurator of New Queer Cinema in this part of the world, who died twenty years ago this February. I don’t think he’d consider Stephan Lacant’s Free Fall an appropriate birthday present.
Free Fall is the story of a love affair between Kay (Max Rielmelt) and Marc (Hanno Koffler), two police officers in training for the riot squad. Marc is a straight in both senses, with a wife and a child on the way; Kay (Max Riemelt) is a recreational drug user and an “anarchist,” in Mark’s words. The police life doesn’t seem to suit him. Perhaps he means to take the system down from within, a very German leftist thing to do (see Rudi Dutschke). Roommates in the training academy, they go for jogs together, and share some wistful cigarettes. (Inhale, stare at sky – cut to stars – exhale, stare at sky – sigh – exeunt.) Then Kay steals a kiss and they start sleeping with each other. Marc’s wife’s due date gets closer and closer, and he has to choose the sort of life he wants to lead.
Anyone who’s been to the Beautiful Launderette on top of Brokeback Mountain will be able to anticipate the sorts of plot twists and conflicts they’re in for here. We’re not in Berlin – the world of Free Fall is one in which homosexuality is merely tolerated. Mark’s police academy milieu, and his family, esteem strict conservative values. This is exaggerated to the extent that most of the film’s supporting characters are not developed beyond their particular standpoint on this one issue. Free Fall is a classic case of film as social intervention trumping film as work of art.
Of course, the issue is still an issue. The sight of two men having sex with each other (even if the shadows do tend to fall in very contrived ways. And what about lubrication, and condoms?) is still rare enough on the big screen for Free Fall to feel worthy and necessary. Artists very much dislike hearing that their work is worthy and necessary, though, as we all know. The actors, particularly Rielmelt, do their subtle best, but the script lets everyone down.
There are some pleasing instances of cognitive dissonance. The grainy handheld camera makes its presence felt at just the right moments – we think we’re watching a typical police drama, and our expectations are subverted. There’s also much ambiguity around the principals’ sexual orientations; they sleep with each other, but they also sleep with women. Still, if it’s pushing the sexual envelope we’re talking about, the film doesn’t really bear comparison to much contemporary European fare. Even Tom Tykwer’s 2010 Three, on which Free Fall screenwriter Karsten Dahlem was assistant director, had a far more enlightened view of sexuality, and didn’t take itself anywhere near as tiresomely seriously. Ditto Derek Jarman’s Caravaggio.
Darragh John McCabe
Freefall is released on 31st January 2014