The Free Will begins, basically, with a long, hideously-detailed and violent rape scene. Theo (Jürgen Vogel, who also produced and co-wrote) is convicted of his crime; the bulk of the film deals with his post-prison life, his struggles with rehabilitation, and his relationship with Nettie (Sabine Timoteo), seemingly a victim in waiting. I have strong reservations about The Free Will: it's filled with ugly, offensive actions, and I felt like I was dragged through the mire for 163 minutes for little reason other than to shove my face in the muck. Still, there is no denying the power of the performances or the talent of director Matthias Glasner. It is a provocative piece that inspires deep thinking about important issues.
Michael Guillén wrote a long and thoughtful review at The Evening Class -- my comments above are adapted from my response to his review -- which may help you decide whether to rent or buy The Free Will, which is out on DVD today. Benten Films has quickly developed a very fine reputation for their releases, so expect a good-quality transfer. Their edition includes an audio commentary by Glasner and Vogel, the original theatrical trailer, and a new critical essay by Time Out's David Fear.
Here are four more of this week's indie releases, what our critics had to say about them, and DVD details.
Belle Toujours. Manoel de Oliveira, the oldest movie director still active, made "more of a tribute or an epilogue than a sequel" to Luis Bunuel's Belle de Jour, according to Jeffrey M. Anderson; he called the result "an often delicious but sometimes baffling experience." The DVD from New Yorker Video includes interviews with the director and actors, the theatrical trailer, a gallery of on-set photos, and an essay by writer Randal Johnson.
In Bruges. Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson star as hit men exiled in Belgium. James Rocchi said that writer/director Martin McDonagh is "not doing anything new ... but he does it with such flair and wit -- and with so much more than just flair and wit -- that you sincerely find yourself caught up in Ray and Ken's plight." The DVD from Universal Studios includes a "making of," deleted scenes, and a gag reel.
Persepolis. Black and white animation about a young girl coming of age in Tehran, Iran in the late 70s. James Rocchi wrote: "A fresh, moving, out-of-the-gate masterpiece," while Kim Voynar opined: "More than anything, Persepolis shows us what happens when religious fundamentalism and intolerance -- of any stripe -- is allowed to be the foundation on which a country's leadership is built." The DVD from Sony Classics includes the English-language dub as well as the original French-language audio track, an audio commentary on select scenes by Marjane Satrapi, Vincent Paronnaud and Chiara Mastoianni, a "making of" (the French version), a "recording of" (the English version), and more.
The Witnesses. André Téchiné directs a study of five characters in the 80s. Jeffrey M. Anderson resists the easy pull-quote; you'll have to read his entire review to know what he thinks of this one. DVD details are not listed on the Strand Releasing site, though a trailer is available to view.