Watched Aug 15, 2012
Adam Cook’s review:
A near three-hour film about a serial rapist’s reintegration into society following nine years in a mental institution sounds as enjoyable as a new Adam Sandler movie yet whilst both are gruelling experiences The Free Will is very much a must see film.
The film opens with a protracted and viciously graphic rape sequence which draws comparisons with Gaspar Noe’s Irreversible yet that is where the similarities end. Where Noe’s film is hard hitting but essentially sensationalist, The Free Will is altogether more sombre and demanding. Much like Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman it is a film that attempts to make somebody society views as rightly reprehensible into a figure that we can empathise with. The film is surprisingly successful in humanising a person that would typically be deemed as little more than a monster. Yet the film never tries to justify his actions or his urges nor does it provide pat explanations for these feelings either. Instead it is a film documenting his struggles to exist in a world where temptation is all around him and whether he is truly deserving of love.
Shot naturalistically it is unflashy but perfectly captures the mental state and turmoil of its central characters. When the man starts a relationship with his employer’s daughter it seems that he has a chance of happiness yet there is still the constant threat of what he is capable of and the urges he must keep at bay. This chance of happiness is not a road easily travelled for either person as she too comes with dark baggage. Pleasingly the film keeps both of their backstories ambiguous enough never to explain or legitimise the way they act. Instead we understand the characters by what we see, both the good and the horrifying.
The performances, particularly by the two leads (Jürgen Vogel and Sabine Timoteo), are nothing short of sensational. Vogel never resorts to histrionics yet we feel his own inner turmoil and pain and the potential threat he always possesses to those around him. It is a film that asks a lot of its audience; our natural response is to hate such a man and keep them at a safe distance yet it invites you to get inside his head which is not always a comfortable place to be.
Whilst the film is perhaps too long, and it is something I could never recommend unreservedly, it is still a bold, uncompromising, brilliantly crafted and even occasionally heartbreaking film that lingers long in the memory.