Quick Reviews: 'Great Freedom', 'C'mon C'mon' | Franz Rogowski, Joaquin Phoenix, Mike Mills
Though it would be tempting to write a non-linear text about a film that has non-linear storytelling, it's probably better to leave that kind of artistry to steady hands of director-writer Sebastian Meise and co-writer Thomas Reider. Their film Great Freedom (Große Freiheit in German) is a fine example of that while dealing with difficult, and even shameful, topics. In different parts of his life, we follow Hans Hoffmann (Franz Rogowski) who's a concentration camp survivor having been there either for being gay or Jewish, or both as it has been left unclear. After second World War, he continues to serve his prison sentence while developing few relationships with fellow convicts, such as with Viktor (Georg Friedrich). Other timelines pick up when Hans is prisoned again for violating Paragraph 175, which criminalised homosexual acts between men in Germany.
It's very much in that writing by Meise and Reider where Great Freedom succeeds as much as it does, since it never truly matters when Hans gets sentenced because he never really shies away from being who he is, or how he's willing to navigate a new relationship. Here and there, it can get quite frustrating that Hans and other men don't get to have enough personality for us, the viewers, to really get to know them but at least there's a clear through-line of being free in your mind while being stuck in this cruel system. Rogowski also manages to bring so much humanity and earnestness to the screen in his acting, ranging from small tics to bigger reactions on his face when Hans is feeling overwhelming love or sorrow. Non-linear structure of the screenplay is always essential for what Hans is going through, and there's a beautiful final sequence that underscores every single one of those snapshots from earlier, rewarding your patience and attention to what the characters have been talking about.
Smileys: Screenplay, Franz Rogowski, directing
Frowneys: Minor issues with characterisation
C'mon now, go say hi to this awkward man and occasionally annoying, yet clever child. It's good to be polite after all at the very least. Mike Mills returns with a charming drama film in form of C'mon C'mon, as directed and written by him. Taking one's recent career in completely other direction, Joaquin Phoenix plays a travelling radio journalist named Johnny who ends up accepting the role of taking care of his nephew Jesse (Woody Norman) after his sister Viv (Gaby Hoffmann) needs to go look after her struggling ex-husband and Jesse's dad Paul (Scoot McNairy). Johnny and Jesse get off to a shaky start together but begin to develop a bond, especially after they go to New York where Johnny must work and as Viv needs more time to make sure everything is okay with Paul.
With C'mon C'mon, Mills crafts a sweet, considerate movie where a childless adult finds himself examining one's responsibilities as parent-like figure in this kid's life and the kid creates a necessary connection while clearly experiencing distress in regards to his parents. Phoenix, Norman and Hoffmann are all terrific in their roles, Norman notably doing a flawless job while playing for the camera just like Phoenix does at his best, while also acting with an American accent. While some of the characters' adventures are a bit slim against the backdrop of the film's themes, dialogue is often quite well-crafted to make those moments pop more. Jesse and Johnny's back-and-forth is in fact so sharp that you'd wish that the score by Aaron Dessner and Bryce Dessner would compliment it better; instead it often seems to fit only Johnny and ignore every other character, despite that Jesse often manages to turn the conversations upside down.
Smileys: Acting, dialogue