THE FREE WILL (Matthias Glasner, 2006)

I named Jürgen Vogel 2003’s best supporting actor as Arthur, the supportive brother in Margarethe von Trotta’s Rosenstrasse. In Matthias Glasner’s Der Freie Wille, Vogel claims a bigger role, as thirtysomething Theo Stoer, a rapist presumably rehabilitated after nine years of psychiatric detention, who concludes he is doomed to behave violently against women—“It is inside me. It will always be inside me”—and who therefore chooses to exercise his free will by committing suicide. Glasner, Judith Angerbauer and Vogel wrote the script.
     Glasner’s opening is stunning and (appropriately) almost impossible to watch: an agonizingly long, specific look at one of Theo’s assaults and rapes out in the country. Glasner and Vogel will move us to appreciate Theo’s bedeviled humanity, but they will not do so by omitting or whitewashing the horrific nature of his criminal acts.
     Indeed, the whole first movement—say, the first hour of this 2¾-hour film—is tremendous, a revelation of Theo’s lonely life as he battles his demons. His slowly evolving romantic connection with another wounded soul, Nettie Engelbrecht, the daughter of the printing shop owner where he finds a job, holds out hope of some sort of resolution; but the material thins out, becomes diffuse, as the film attempts to give both characters their due. Sabine Timoteo’s acting as Nettie has drawn praise at least equal to what Vogel’s has garnered, but I found it artificial, ditzy, and marred by rank emoting.
     I am glad that Theo commits suicide; it may be the best possible way of protecting what would otherwise be his future victims. But now I’m playing that indefensible game of treating as real what is after all a fictional character. Theo’s suicide is a tad convenient, putting a period on the film’s protracted petering out.

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