She is curious, looking at this new city through new eyes. She is also evasive, changing the name she gives when asked, and the city and even the country where she is from.
It’s obvious to the much younger man who comes on to her in the checkout line that she’s not from around here. “Tourist?” Not that she’s immune to his charms.
Not carrying luggage, not providing ID to the hotel she wants to check into, Petra or Susanne or whoever (Johanna Wokalek) seems aimless, drifting through Vienna, hitching a ride to Bratislava because that’s where the driver is bound.
Like the song that underscores “Freedom,” that famous Richie Havens tune from Woodstock, she’s improvising, reveling in something without analyzing or having the luxury of thinking it through.
Back in Germany, rumpled, harassed lawyer Philip (Hans-Jochen Wagner) dancing as fast as he can. He’s riding herd over a just-turning-rebellious teen daughter and a high-maintenance boy of about eight. He’s struggling to get a handle on how to try his most difficult case, a racist teen who put an African immigrant into a coma.
And he’s appearing on TV, defending himself and pleading for answers. His wife has disappeared. The police wonder if he had something to do with it. And he’s not sure if “Nora” is dead or alive.
“Freedom” (“Freiheit” in German) is German filmmaker Jan Speckanbach’s second feature film and second movie (“Die Vermissten” was the first) about a disappearance. Here, he dives into a breakup, letting us pass judgment on who might be at fault, upending that judgment and then flipping it again.
We are totally immersed in Nora’s get-away, her eagerness to cover her tracks, go off the grid and “start over,” making new Czech friends. That first friend she has sex with as she is just starting to enjoy her “freedom” with right up to the moment when she catches him going through her wallet for ID. The second person she befriends is a sexy blonde (Inga Birkenfeld) who makes a living as an onstage sex performer at a few-holds-barred Bratislava club.
But Nora left behind two kids. Is the increasingly short-tempered bear Philip really all that bad? When he threatens and manhandles his punk client and then physically tosses his daughter’s new boyfriend out of their apartment, we wonder.
Wokalek (“The Baader Meinhof Complex”) makes Nora mysterious, resourceful and fragile. We never know what’s going to trigger her, where her paranoia will take her and who it will yank her away from. Later flashbacks explain some of her motivation, but there’s still a lot that’s unknowable about her.
Wagner (“Lore” was the film he’s in that got the widest release in the US) makes Philip equally unknowable. Was he cheating on Nora, or just too dull and stuck in a rut to be interesting? His temper and his quick turn towards another pair of empty arms make us wonder.
Speckenbach makes this broken couples’ shared mysteries painful and fascinating, deftly dropping in Germany’s “baggage” to older Czechs and reputation for racism in, pointedly leaving any lightness out. Their sexual dalliances have “Freedom” about them, and release. But joy? Not that we can tell.
As Richie Havens sings in the opening scene, only getting into the verse in the film’s coda, “sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.”
MPA Rating: unrated, explicit sex, nudity
Cast: Johanna Wokalek, Hans-Jochen Wagner, Inga Birkenfeld, Andrea Szabová, Ondrej Koval
Credits: Directed by Jan Speckenbach , script by Andreas Deinert, Jan Speckenbach. A Corinth Films release.
Running time: 1:40