It was a small sensation at last year’s Berlin Film Festival when a gay love story about two German policemen gained buzz far beyond the usual special interest radar. “Free Fall” — the feature-length debut of director Stephan Lacant, was quickly compared to “Brokeback Mountain” (minus the homophobia) and later did extraordinarily well at the German box office – not bad for a film that has “gay” written all over it (and now it’s out on DVD Stateside — so you can see for yourself).
The story is simple, and yet complicated since it is set at two epicentres of heteronormativity: a male-dominated police squad and a middle class nuclear family to be. Kay Engel (played by heartthrob-hottie Max Riemelt) is the new boy in town who joins the police team and quickly bonds with his colleague Marc (equally irresistible: Hanno Koffler). Marc has his family life all planned out with his wife pregnant (amazing as always: Katharina Schüttler) and the town house apartment next door to his parents ready for a stable petit bourgeois future. Little by the little, the social order gets out of balance when Kay’s approaches put the stability of Marc’s social and sexual blueprint into question. It starts with a joint after work and the realisation that leftie Kay doesn’t actually believe in police power but plans to undermine it from within. The wonderful confusion continues with a surprising kiss in the woods where the two men go for a jog and reaches its first climax (couldn’t resist the cheap pun) at a steamy sex scene that made me go running every day for a month hoping I would meet Max Riemelt somewhere, you know, to discuss his role.
All joking aside, it is nothing short of amazing and thrilling to see two openly straight and well-known (German) actors give their professional all to make a tender, sexy and yet problematic gay love story believable. The intensity with which they indulge into their characters is only topped in greatness by their following press work, in which they, unlike their “Brokeback Mountain” pals back in the day, talked openly and without prejudice or fear of the “gay label” about their collaboration and friendship.
When I had a Q&A with Marc Koffler some time after the film had been released, you could feel that he was happy, not only with his work, but with the entire film -and once you watch it, you understand why. Despite an arguably conventional dramatic composition, “Free Fall” surprises you as it works around the major gay clichés and has three actors (Koffler, Riemelt and Schüttler) in peak form so well directed that every conflict (police, parents, wife, potential coming out) is 100% believable and almost tangible in the more dramatic scenes. It’s small gestures like the way Max Riemelt’s hand grabs Hanno Koffler’s head in the first make out or the built-up tension in the face of Katharina Schüttler once it dawns on her that her husband might cheat on her in a way she hadn’t expected. It’s also extremely refreshing to watch a film about the social and political structures of heterosexuality being questioned without giving the victim card to the gay intruder of these systems. The character of Kay is not only damn sexy, but also a cool and fearless dude who can take a punch and still leave as a winner. The depiction of German middle-class dreams on the other hand has an authenticity to it that prevents us from voting against those who need tradition and stability in their life, although the film questions these ideals in the light of an unexplored sexuality.
In that sense, “Free Fall” is less of a gay film (there is actually no depiction of gay subculture apart from an obligatory club scene) and more of a queer film insofar as that it tackles question of normalcy and the politics of a majority. By the way, many queer-related films do that and it’s high time to get them out of their special interest niche, because it’s the straight majority that should be especially interested in re-thinking their privileges and systems. Mind you, there aren’t enough Kay Engels yet to turn every straight policeman, as promising as that would be.
Watch the trailer below, and buy the DVD here (it just came out today).