Fantasia Review: Free Country

A couple of years after German reunification, two detectives, one from the West side and one from the East side, are forced to work together on a case. Two teenage girls have gone missing in a small community. The detectives must work through their differences while uncovering the many secrets the remote town has to hide.

Fantasia International Film Festival brings audiences yet another fascinating film from Germany. Free Country is directed by Christian Alvart (Pandorum, Antibodies), who also co-wrote the film with Siegfried Kamml, who makes his feature-film screenwriting debut. The film was adapted from the screenplay, Marshland, by Spanish screenwriters Alberto Rodríguez and Rafael Cobos. Free Country follows two detectives who meet for the first time when they arrive at a remote town to investigate the disappearance of two teenage girls. One detective lived and worked on the West side before the Berlin Wall came down, the other on the East. They have very different methods and moral compasses when it comes to their jobs. As they work through the mystery around the young girls, they also have to navigate how to work with each other. It creates an interesting dynamic because at times their methods are at odds with each other, but at times one detective’s strength brings about at least a small break in the case. It creates a slow-burn, neo-noir thriller fraught with tension from the moment the two men meet all the way to the suspenseful end.

Both leads in Free Country do a fantastic job as the detectives. Trystan Pütter (Toni Ernmann, Anonymous) plays Patrick Stein. Patrick is from the West side and was sent to this remote town as a sort of punishment. He is the more honest, straight-laced of the two detectives, and Pütter does a great job of making Patrick seem capable, but also a bit soft. Felix Kramer (Dark, Anatomy 2) plays the more hardened East side detective, Markus Bach. Markus is used to making his own rules when it comes to investigating crime. Kramer shines as this gruff man who is having difficulty adjusting to the new order now that there is no divide between East and West. These two men play off of one another quite well as they go back and forth between being at odds with each other and looking out for each other’s backs.

The film expertly transports the audience into the past. Free Country is set in Germany during the early 90’s. Great care was put into many visual aspects to maintain that time period. Everything from the clothes, to the cars, to the technology (or lack thereof) maintain that early 90’s feel. Free Country also has a griminess to it that is often a signature of neo-noir films. The film is tinged with yellow, making it appear old, dirty, and weathered. This look goes hand-in-hand with the desolate town on the East side where life was harder than it was for those in the West. The buildings are more run down and the people don’t have the nicest clothes. Every visual is an indicator of the hard life these townspeople lead and why many are so desperate to head West.

Free Country is a German time capsule wrapped around a neo-noir thriller. Alvart and Kamml do a fantastic job of adapting a Spanish screenplay to fit into German history, while also maintaining the suspenseful investigation into the teen girls’ disappearances. The visually appealing film greatly benefits from stunning performances from the two stars, Pütter and Kramer. They both deliver powerhouse performances on their own and as a duo. The final moment might leave a bit to be desired, but Free Country will still be a hit to crime-thriller enthusiasts around the world (including my mom).

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

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