Viharsarok (Land of Storms) – Sarajevo 20
A deeply emotional and visually impressive drama by Ádám Császi, that exposes the issue of homophobia in modern day Hungary.
Hungarian director Ádám Császi’s debut feature Land of Storms (Viharsarok) is a deeply emotional and visually impressive gay themed drama that follows quite close the path of the Hungarian cinematic sublime allegorical tradition (Miklós Jancsó, István Gaál). Behind the cover of a tragic true story, Császi exposes homophobia which is a social issue that is still quite present in modern day Hungary. Homosexuals are usually marginalized, stigmatized and they sometimes also become victims of groups of extremists in their own country.
Land of Storms – which participates in the 20th Sarajevo Film Festival in the Official Competition section – tells the story of Szabi (András Sütö), a young footballer from Hungary who is living in Germany and is secretly in love with his colleague Bernard (Sebastian Urzendowsky). After a series of conflicts, Szabi is forced to quit his team and to return to his grandfather’s abandoned house in a Hungarian pastoral area. There, he accidently meets the teenage builder Áron (Ádám Varga) and their encounter slowly evolves to an awkward and unpretentious sexual relationship. This relationship will help them to discover their true selves.
Land of Storms is a film based on the perpetual quest of a new identity; a quest which is viewed under the prism of the conquering and threatening homophobia. Initially Császi follows a safe path by searching and reinventing the identities of his heroes. They are both lost in their current living situation and apparently they are missing a piece of themselves so they are always struggling to evolve their personalities and feel more mature in a literal way. The way that Császi presents this journey is sometimes quite symbolical but also is not that far away from explicit reality. To enforce his message, the director – who also co-wrote the screenplay along with Iván Szabó – creates a deeply allegorical religious film which juxtaposes biblical scenes and symbolisms upon these boys’ romantic drama.
Szabi, who could be easily described as a fallen angel or even as a prodigal son, is trying to discard his old profession and become a beekeeper, despite the wrath of his father’s (Lajos Otto Horvath) God-like figure. Áron on, on the other hand, will need to struggle in order to shake off himself the overbearingly traditional religious society of his village and his mother (Enikö Börcsök) too. These experiences will bring them closer to one another and they will both realize that they are in love with each other. Symbols also play an important role in this procedure. The cross is always present; the water in different forms is used as a cathartic tool, either to baptize the heroes into their new identities or to clear their conciseness for their committed sins. Confessions behind closed doors will also offer the necessary transcendence and a more powerful dramatic climax. As a spectator would expect, their acts will bring upon them the rage and violence of the local community, rage which would lead to scenes of public and private humiliation.
The judgmental religious subtext that is followed so meticulously throughout the film creates an asphyxiating environment for both the audience and the heroes. Szabi, who leaves his anxious urban life, believes that a new and almost virgin landscape could be his land of opportunities – but instead he will only find storms. As a modern missionary, he is trying to spread his ideas to a new world; but it is clearly stated that under the powerful and irrational homophobic environment no one can really survive, so inevitably he should always adapt. This claustrophobic sensation is especially enhanced by Marcell Rev’s cinematography which stays absolutely true to the Hungarian tradition of dramas set in wide landscapes. While Land of Storms takes place in a sort of Eden, liberated and almost elegiac, everything seems locked down and cast upon the heroes’ lives and decisions. The openness of the fields will not be enough for anyone to escape and even when they seem to be free in the fields, they are truly enslaved by their conservative and dangerous society. The almost theatrical approach in the depiction of the most crucial moments also give a unique depth to the viewer as the heroes feel to be present and close to him.
It wouldn’t be completely wrong to assume that the aesthetics of Császi’s film are quite close to the real atmosphere modern day Hungarian gays are forced to live in. Land of Storms is not a film that wants to fight with anyone but tries to set a clear discussion on the topic of homophobia and to liberate everyone from an environment that could kill him, slowly and sometimes literally.