In recent years, LGBTQ+ representation in media has become a widely discussed topic. Due to the growing claims from the community of their need to be portrayed in films and TV shows, we have witnessed an increase in the presence of diverse characters and stories.
If we take a look at Hungarian film history, we will discover that movies involving LGBTQ+ themes have been part of the industry for a long time.
Nearly forty years ago, in 1982, “Another Way” (“Egymásra nézve”), by director Károly Makk, was released. The film was met with very positive reactions from the critics: Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak’s performance won her the award for Best Actress at the Cannes film festival, and the movie itself was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
“Another Way”, set in Hungary in 1958 during Soviet occupation, tells the turbulent story of two lesbian women, Eva and Livia. The two of them engage in an illegal romantic relationship, despite the heavy atmosphere of sexual and political repression. Since its release to this day, it has become a cult film and has only cultivated more praise for its merits.
More recently, in 2016, “Land of Storms” (“Viharsarok”), by director Ádám Császi, has been the focus of both praise and criticism. The film centers on Szabolcs, a young man who returns from Germany to his small rural town in Hungary, after quitting his football career.
There he meets Áron and the affair between them begins. The situation starts getting more complicated when Bernard, and old friend from Germany, goes to Hungary to express his interest in Szabolcs.
While some praise the film’s display of intimacy and passion in same-sex relationships, others have found the explicitly violent scenes against gay people to be more damaging than helpful for the LGBTQ+ community. Some viewers have even called it the “Hungarian Brockeback Mountain”, for its exhibit of homosexual repression within conservative and rural communities.
But, in spite of the negative comments, most of the public agrees on admiring the beautiful cinematography and how the film manages to construct a completely realistic world filled with prejudice and ignorance against minorities.
On the other hand, there are Hungarian films that have been harshly criticized for the way they portray homosexuality such as “Coming Out” (2013). Written and directed by Dénes Orosz, the film shows the story of Erik, a well-known gay celebrity and activist for LGBTQ+ rights, who is about to marry his male partner, Balázs. After being involved in a traffic accident, he realizes that he has developed sexual desires for women, and begins having romantic feelings for his physician, Linda.
While more conservative audiences expressed their enjoyment of the comedy, most viewers have received “Coming Out” with negative reviews. Those who disliked it highlight its internalized homophobia, lack of understanding of same-sex relationships and display of negative stereotypes within the LGBTQ+ community.
Probably one of the most famous Hungarian LGBTQ+ movies ever made is “Colette” (2018). The film is a co-production between Hungary, the United Kingdom and the United States. It traces back to a historical figure: the French author, Gabrielle Colette. She experiences exploitation by her husband who forces her to write novels for his own profit.
In addition to fighting her husband’s oppression, the writer and her group defy gender norms, binaries, and heteronormative relationships. Colette herself is involved sexually and romantically with women and trans men, as well as being shown in polyamorous relationships.
Due to the recent laws concerning LGBTQ+ media passed by the Hungarian government, many have wondered, will the country’s film industry be affected? If we take a look at the law itself, we will see it intends to limit the circulation among children of content involving gay or trans representation. The lawmakers have argued that this is an attempt to fight pedophilia, but human rights and LGBTQ+ activists claim that this is an attack to the community and accuse the law of censorship.
The films we have retraced in this article do not have a children audience in mind, so it is reasonable to anticipate that the law will not limit the scope of media intended for adults. However, with some production companies becoming more inclusive in order to tell LGBTQ+ stories for children, the new legislation will probably become a limitation for creators.
Recently, Disney released “Luca” (2021), an animated film for young audiences. Although it does not show explicitly gay characters, it has been interpreted by many as an allegory of the LGBTQ+ experience. So, in this regard, the new law may become a limitation for creators who had younger audiences in mind.
On the other hand, filmmakers fear backlash from production companies due to the anti-LGBTQ+ laws. However, it should be remembered that boycotting the Hungarian film industry would not be a punishment towards the lawmakers, but to all the workers involved in the making of a movie. It can only be hoped that companies understand the complex political context and put their trust into the country’s ability to accommodate casts and crews, and to provide high-quality equipment, astonishing locations and dedicated workers.