Mr. Freedom

mr freedom

Mr. Freedom is a 1969 film by the expatriate American photographer and filmmaker William Klein. Starring the popular French actor Delphine Seyrig, this anti-imperialist satirical farce has cameos by the well-known actors Donald Pleasence and Philippe Noiret, as well as the musician Serge Gainsbourg. Under the command of Dr. Freedom, the crass superhero Mr. Freedom (John Abbey) goes to France to stave off the advances of the mysterious French Anti-Freedom (FAF) organization.

He joins forces with the femme fatale Marie-Madeleine to lead his own anti-communist Freedom organization. The Freedom mission is complicated by the machinations of communist foes — the Stalinist Moujik Man and the ferocious Maoist Red China Man (portrayed as a giant inflatable dragon). France, refusing to see the FAF as a threat, rebuffs Freedom, leading to an escalation of Cold War tactics. In the end, betrayed, Mr. Freedom destroys himself trying to save the ‘unappreciative’ nation.

Like his previous film (‘Who Are You, Polly Magoo?’) and reminiscent of the feel of much of ‘Zazie in the Metro,’ in which Klein is credited as artistic consultant, ‘Mr. Freedom’ features absurd characters, comical costuming, and exaggeration. The title character’s uniform is an odd assemblage of discarded football gear, face paint, and hockey gloves. The United States Embassy is a department store run by skipping models in spandex, proffering right-wing mercenaries and ‘Freedom Kits’ of high-tech weaponry. Freedom training sessions are Dantian visions of rape and sadism. Every scene aims for the absurd, reaching both for comedic effect and political statement.

Filmed at the height of the Vietnam War and concurrently with the radical political upheaval of 1968 France, ‘Mr. Freedom’ is a political farce, clearly sympathizing with national liberation and left wing movements. The title character, a stand-in for U.S. political and economic might, is a crude, cruel buffoon in the service of corporations. His rhetoric of freedom stands in cold relief to his actions, which are anything but democratic. The politics get a bit muddled with the characters of Mujick Man, Red China Man, and the FAF, but they would seem to be stand-ins for the Soviet Union, communist China, and the radical milieu of the 1968 uprisings, respectively.

Mr. Freedom makes numerous left wing statements on the Cold War, and more specifically, the Vietnam War. The film was widely taken to be about the student uprising and near revolution of May 1968 in France. Klein denied this, claiming that it was more a film about America. His assertion is supported by the chronology of the film’s production: In May 1968 shooting was nearly wrapped up, although documentary images of marches and clashes of May were included in the final production. Nevertheless, its implicit critique of Charles de Gaulle and sympathy with the radical students tied the release of ‘Mr. Freedom’ up with French censors. Fearing it may never be seen otherwise, Klein showed the film at the 1968 Avignon Festival. Marxist-Leninist groups criticized the political caricatures of Red China Man and other characters. Never receiving the widespread attention of other films released immediately post-1968, Mr. Freedom remains an obscure film.

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