Tuesday, August 5, 2014

FREE FALL (2013) Starring Hanno Koffler and Max Riemelt

This is a German film with subtitles. I find no problem with this but some do. It's a love story between two men. I find no problem with this but some do. It you're one who does then don't read this post, don't watch the movie.

FREE FALL (2013) is a film directed by Stephen Lacant, screenplay by Stephen Lacant and Karsten Dahlem, starring two remarkable German actors, Hanno Koffler and Max Riemelt. I had heard that this was on par with BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN which remains one of my favorite films of all time even if the damn thing broke my heart.

Was this as good as BBM? Almost. Yes, I dare say it, almost.

The raw honesty of the film was not totally unexpected but I was surprised by how incredibly good the acting is. Hanno Koffler as Marc Borgmann got a well-deserved German Academy Award Best Actor nomination and probably should have gotten one here as well. He's THAT good. Max Riemelt as Kay (rhymes with 'eye') Engel is really just as wonderful though the film unveils from Marc's point of view so his character carries most of the weight.

Marc Borgmann is a rookie cop with a girlfriend and a baby on the way. They've moved close to relatives to make things easier on the new mother though in truth what it does is overwhelm Marc. I'm not sure how the German police works, but it seems that they must spend part of the week away in barracks training, I guess like our police academies. This part isn't very clear but since it's not overly important to the story - except that it throws the two men together in a mostly male environment - I won't worry about it.

The work setting has an institutionalized military look and feel to it as the cops train in riot control, hand to hand combat and other police oriented disciplines. There are barking instructors, rigid rules to follow and lines not to be crossed. Marc is working hard to pass his exams and he doesn't give name to his uneasiness because he loves his wife and knows he has a lot to be thankful for. This unease is slowly drawn out and results in Marc being culled from the group in training by Kay Engel, a younger, more easy going rebel-prone type who finds Marc's play-by-the-rules behavior and occasional haplessness, intriguing.

Not that Kay is a predator, he's just a lonely man on the make, not that unusual. Kay's hard veneer covers a vulnerability, flashes of which we get here and there and are all the more beautifully expressed by their subtlety. Max Riemelt is wonderful at expressing by not expressing. He is the perfect foil for his co-star. Then of course, there's that fleeting hint of mischief in his eyes.

The two men begin training, running together. Marc is intrigued by Kay's ease of manner and indifference to the rules. They form an unlikely acquaintance bordering on friendship until, during one of their runs, Kay makes a pass at Marc. Marc's immediate negative reaction causes Kay to dismiss it as a joke. But once Kay resumes their run, Marc stays behind and the camera lingers on his almost expressionless face. Nothing overt, nothing other than the fact that it's obvious Marc has had a reaction he wasn't expecting. The troubled look in his eyes speak volumes.

From that moment, Marc is wary of Kay and tries to steer clear. But as time passes this becomes more and more difficult for him. Especially since Kay senses that Marc - much against his better judgement - is attracted.

Over time, the two men are drawn to each other and fall uneasily into a passionate affair. But as in BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, it is more than an affair. That's the problem, really. In this sort of film love means loss and devastation.

There is also some violence but not over the top and the loss is not unexpected. When will there be a dramatic film featuring two men who fall in love and live happily ever after? Well, obviously not when there's a broken marriage in the middle of the mix. As much as a guilty Marc tries to find a solution, tries to do what's right in an untenable situation, he just makes things worse. We then get an ambiguous ending in which we are given to believe that Marc is a stronger and better person.

Otherwise this is one of the more moving films I've seen in a while. It's all in the acting of the two leads which is beautifully sincere and affecting and yes, sexy. The more because these are not two pretty boys, they are, instead two men who look as if they might really be human beings and cops.

Watching Marc's relationship with the mother of his child as it crumbles, you feel achingly sad for the confused and heartbroken Bettina (Katharina Schuttler) who must deal with a newborn and a man who is suddenly a stranger.

"Are you gay?"
"What are you?"
"I don't know."

Three lives torn apart by love. An engaging, moving, perceptive film, the sort that doesn't come along very often.

Yes, there are a couple of sex scenes - one very intensely passionate, but considering that many films featuring heterosexual relationships rarely stray far from the bedroom, there's nothing here that will stun you and cause you to go into abject shock. Hanno Koffler's tenderness in the midst of desire is actually rather beautiful to behold. As is Max Riemelt's bemusement in the face of overwhelming passion. You do believe these two men are desperately in love.

By the way, there's also a shower room scene in which frontal nudity is casually displayed. The men shower in groups. Done this matter-of-factly you don't recoil with horror if that was your inclination. I was not the slightest bit uncomfortable and I'm an old lady with old lady sensibilities. What did make me uncomfortable was the name-calling and homophobia of some of Marc's co-workers. Nudity I can deal with - it's hate that gives me a hard time.

Not an easy film, but definitely one of the most affecting and memorable.

Don't forget to check in at Todd's blog, Sweet Freedom to see what other Forgotten or Overlooked Films, Television or Other Audio/Visuals, other bloggers are talking about today. We're a lively bunch.


  1. This looks great and you are so right. Until there are films where a gay marriage is merely incidental, we are still locked in this mindset.

  2. We're in agreement, Patti. Locked but hopefully the key not thrown completely away. :) It's going to take a while.

  3. Never heard of this one Yvette but sounds well worth catching up with - ta!

  4. Dear Yvette,

    Patti and you have both gone to the heart of what doubtlessly made Brokeback Mountain acceptable to a mainstream audience, ie a homosexual love story could not possibly have a happy ending. Otherwise, it would just be a "gay movie."

    That might change within a viewing generation, but in the meantime, objective and sensitive reviews such as yours make a world of difference.

    1. Thanks so much, Mark. I was conflicted about what to write since as I was writing I was still emotional about the film. I get that way sometimes. :)

    2. You know, I was thinking about it and, while Free Fall was called the German Brokeback Mountain (2005), you might even say it's the German Making Love (1982). That film, which dates back to when I was teenager, was considered too daring at the time, but it set the template of the now familiar plot of the married "straight" man who finds he is attracted to another man and goes through all the guilt and anguish.

      Some of the gay audience has tired of that sort of plot and are apt to get impatient with Marc, but it's artfully done all the same.

    3. I do remember MAKING LOVE - a cringing attempt at offending nobody. Or at least that's how I remember it. But I give it three stars for at least attempting something that hadn't been done before. But if I'm remembering correctly, in that film there wasn't any great love expressed between the two men. So it was basically just an affair. Still, you're right - the married straight guy who suddenly upends his life has been done and overdone. But Mark is right, if the ending is happy then it's 'just a gay movie'. Make a good movie, I say. Just make a good movie. I would love to see THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by Peter Lefcourt turned into a film. It's moving, it's funny - even hilarious, it's dramatic, it's emotional and has two fabulous parts for two daring men. But a film about two baseball players falling in love is still too daring I suppose.I used to exchange emails with the author and he had high hopes but nothing ever came of it.

    4. Oh, yeah, I remember that book and seem to recall there was some talk about making that into a film. A mainstream gay film with some humor would be great.

      Well, I don't think Making Love was that good, to be sure! The character played by Harry Hamlin was as I recall rather a shallow character and the Michael Ontkean character rather bland.

      I think the two male leads were quite good in Free Fall, got the characters personalities across great. Riemalt had this impish quality of the free spirit and Koffler has this really interesting face, like an endearingly goofy Ralph Fiennes. He caught the anguish and yearning of the character very well.

    5. '...endearingly goofy Ralph Fiennes.' Yes. Absolutely. I wish I'd thought of that. :)

  5. Yvette, I liked this a lot too, though some have been put off by the ending. Could definitely see BBM comparisons! Oddly, I just saw Pit Stop the other night, which is paired with Free Fall on Amazon. It's set in Texas and offers an interesting picture of two men there. Rather minimalist narrative (small indie feel) but I enjoyed it.


    1. I'll keep it in mind. Lately there haven't been that many movies (of any stripe) worth spending any time with. Basically it's hit or miss - mostly miss. :) I'm actually thinking of cancelling my DVD portion of Netflix.

  6. Yvette, "objective and sensitive" — Mark Ruffner said what I'd in mind as I read through your balanced review. I liked the subtlety of the title.

    1. Thank you, Prashant. I'm glad you didn't think I went too over the top. The title is apt.

  7. Never heard of this one, Yvette. Thanks for a thoughtful review. I just added it to my Netflix queue and sent it to #1. I'll be seeing it in a few days. BTW-- have you ever seen BIG EDEN? One of the few feel good "gay romance" movies out there. It may be a bit unrealistic and fanciful, but I think it's important since so many gay themed movies are filled with angst, neuroses and tragedy. Since you like IN & OUT so much I think you'd like BIG EDEN.

    1. I did see BIG EDEN a few years ago, John, primarily because of the Native American actor who I had an old lady crush on. Ha.Yes, a very nice ending that one. A sweet movie.

      Let me know what you think of FREE FALL, John, once you have a chance to watch it.

  8. You should watch Shelter from 2007, its a gorgeous movie, full of drama , and has a happy ending. I think I may watch this one some other day, I'm just not up for a love story with an unhappy ending right now.

  9. Unhappy endings take a lot of fortitude. :) I hardly ever watch 'em. This was an exception. I think I saw SHELTER a couple of years ago. Good film. But the acting in FREE FALL is the thing that will draw you. So wonderful.

  10. Hi Yvette, I remember you as Rosewood on DCF. I may have posted here once or twice.

    I love this movie and have watched it more times than I can count. I've even started a fanfic (even though I said I wouldn't). Your review was great. I found the movie left so much to our imagination - at first I was a little disappointed that their happy time together was so quickly over, as I was with Brokeback - I just wanted more! But I give it 5 stars, I really can't say enough good things about it.

    The acting is top-notch, as you've said. Max & Hanno had worked together in 2 other movies before this one, and have said in interviews that it would have been almost impossible for one to be in it without the other, they wouldn't have felt the same connection, and they wouldn't have been as comfortable with another actor. I also read an interview in a German magazine in which Hanno said that they had a bottle of vodka on set as they filmed the lovely scene at Kay's apartment.

    Thanks for the review,

    1. Hi Nancy, it's been ages since I posted at our old stamping grounds. :) I'm so glad you decided to comment. Thanks so much for the background info about Max and Hanno - two wonderful actors. I didn't realize they'd worked together before - but it makes sense.

      A bottle of vodka....Well, it was a wonderful love scene. Very moving and believable and sexy. Perfect.

      Not as unhappy as BBM, definitely. But you may be right about it being open-ended. I said it was 'ambiguous' so we may be on the same wavelength. But you're right, Marc wasn't ready. I like to think that Kay will return at some point. Who knows?

      Double comments are fine with me by the way. No problem.

      Don't be a stranger. :)

  11. Sorry, I meant to say this in my first comment: I didn't see it as an unhappy ending. If they had ended up together at that time, THAT would have been unhappy, Marc wasn't ready at all. But it was left open-ended, and he had finally learned how to "breathe evenly". It can only get better from there. thanks, sorry again for the double comment....


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