The Free Will
Other // Unrated // $27.95 // June 24, 2008
Review by Chris Neilson | posted June 13, 2008
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Graphical Version
It seems the title of the 2006 German language film The Free Will (Der Freie Wille) is meant to be taken ironically since the only effective act of free will in this film by director Matthias Glasner occurs in the final scene. Everything that comes before is futility or compulsion. The Free Will principally concerns two characters both of whom are slaves to their essential natures. Theo, played masterfully by veteran actor Jürgen Vogel, is a self-loathing misogynist who brutally rapes women, but takes no pleasure in the transgression. Nettie, played wonderfully by relative newcomer Sabine Timoteo, is through and through a victim who after 27 years under the roof of an abusive father has finally managed to leave home only to fall for Theo.

The Free Will is a 168-minute slog through pain and misery for Nettie, Theo, and Theo's victims broken only by a period of doomed love in the film's middle act which lasts no longer than a cherry blossom's bloom. Nettie can no more save Theo from his nature, than she can keep from losing herself in him. Both are victims of their nature, and while the journey is made sufferable by outstanding performances from Vogel and Timoteo, the film's arc is as deterministic as the characters' fate.

Director Matthias Glasner succeeded in giving The Free Will a high degree of realism on a miniscule budget. Everything was shot using an inexpensive hand-held video camera, on location, without extras or elaborate light setups. To further save money Glasner shot the film and performed most of the music himself. This attention to cost-cutting gave Glasner the freedom to make what amounted to a six-hour first cut, but perhaps a better use of money would have been to shoot less footage and to instead spend the savings on an outside film editor. At 168 minutes, The Free Will is at least an hour too long. As Glasner admits in the commentary, he was doing major edits to the film up until the last moment before it was submitted into the film festival circuit. Unfortunately, too much that an objective editor would have cut remained in.

The DVD
The Free Will is the fourth release from the boutique Brooklyn distribution label Benten Films. It's attractively packaged in an alpha case with cardboard slip cover, and includes a color booklet.

The Video:

This release is presented in a 1.77:1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced. Though many of the limitations in the picture quality are attributable to the filming methods, especially the low contrast, washed out colors, and some video errors, there's also digital combing, ghosting, and soft focus on this release likely attributable to the PAL-to-NTSC transfer.

The Audio:
The Dolby Digital 2.0 audio likely adequately replicates the original audio. While it is by no means immersive, there is noticeable separation between the channels, and no noticeable distortion attributable to the DVD authoring. Optional English subtitles are provided for the film and filmmakers' commentary both of which are in German.

The Extras:

Extras include a booklet with essay by film critic David Fear, the theatrical trailer, and a filmmaker commentary, in German with optional English subtitles, by director Matthias Glasner and co-writer/star Jürgen Vogel.

Final Thoughts:
For all its flaws The Free Will is worth seeing for the tour de force performances from Jürgen Vogel and Sabine Timoteo though viewers able to play PAL-format discs may wish to consider the 2-disc German release which has English subtitles, many more extras (albeit in German without subtitles), and I suspect, better image quality.



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