Coming Out

Two Hungarian films about homosexuality: Falsehood and the truth

While researching an entirely different topic, I encountered by chance a description of a Hungarian-made film called “Coming Out.” On closer observation, it turns out that the film is about “how to come out of being gay”–that is, how to “cure oneself” of being gay. Shortly after the film appeared in November, a reviewer claimed that it “is the most harmful Hungarian film ever made.” He came to that conclusion on the basis of the comments that appeared under a review of the film in Index, which were full of venom, hatred, and anti-Semitic remarks.

I, on the other hand, see it somewhat differently. Yes, it is most likely a harmful film, but not because commenters make ugly remarks about gays, liberals, and Jews. It is harmful because it is a falsification of medical facts. Instead of enlightening the terribly ignorant Hungarian public on the phenomenon of homosexuality, it leads them farther down the road of ignorance.

Some twenty years ago, in the infancy of the Internet, I signed up for two discussion groups dealing with Hungary. One was in English, the other in Hungarian. By now I don’t remember on which one we had a Hungarian psychiatrist who one day came out with the brilliant observation that “homosexuality is like smoking. One can get hooked but one can also quit.” It seems that even twenty years later many Hungarians haven’t changed their attitudes.

The story of the movie is as follows. Erik, an openly gay radio personality, is planning to marry his partner, Balázs. Then comes a motorcycle accident, as a result of which he slowly discovers that he is “in truth” attracted to the opposite sex. Who is the object of his newly found heterosexual desires? His own physician, Linda.

The producer of this film is Gábor Kálomista, a man known for his right-wing sympathies. It received 280 million forints from the fund established by the Orbán government under the supervision of Andy Vajnai, formerly a producer of such serial Hollywood blockbusters as Rambo and Terminator. Vajnai is a practical guy for whom box office numbers are the measure of success. When he arrived as Viktor Orbán’s man in charge of film production, he decided to change the direction of Hungarian filmmakers’ activities. Hungary was known for winning all sorts of international prizes but, Orbán and Vajnai pointed out, nobody went to see these films. They didn’t make any money.

The result of the total reorganization of the Hungarian film industry was that for three solid years no Hungarian film was produced. But then “Coming Out” appeared. Since the money for the production came from the Christian, family oriented Orbán government, one couldn’t expect to see a real “coming out.” Moreover, since the newly organized film industry wanted high ticket sales, the plot had to appeal to the majority, conservative audience. Apparently it worked. By the end of January 110,000 people went to see the movie.

It seems that this pseudo-science is what the Hungarian public wants to believe. They can go home after the movie and discuss with friends and family the “fact” that homosexuality is an illness which can be cured, if necessary by a knock on the head. They can go on and talk in the style of Zsolt Semjén about “bearded liberals” who lead innocent children into sin by luring them into sexual deviance.

This film is a reflection of the generally phony world of Orbán’s Hungary. Falsifying history, falsifying science: all is well as long as the government’s propaganda machine, assisted by the churches, satisfies the needs of the population. Moreover, this is film is just a drop in the bucket. For instance, Péter Róska, a theologian, explains on Magyar Rádió that “homosexual tendencies” are acquired traits because “they haven’t found the homosexual gene.” The whole western world, he continues, is in danger because of the “gender ideology” that is directed by gays and feminists. This kind of pap is being fed to the Hungarian public.

SturmlandIn sharp contrast, a Hungarian-German film, naturally not supported by Andy Vajna’s fund, won top honors in the “first film” category at the Berlin Film Festival. The film, entitled Sturmland/Viharsarok (Land of Storms), is about three gay men wrestling with their sexuality in an unaccommodating environment.  A review I read of the film describes the background as something that “belongs to a forgotten Europe.” A Hungarian football player returns from Germany and gets romantically involved with a local man. Both men endure separate experiences of violence as word gets out about them. In the end the football player is murdered. Berliner Zeitung wrote a very favorable review of the film in which the reviewer emphasized that the movie is about “the dreadful logic of repressed homosexuality and the deadly hatred of homosexuals.”

Two films, two worlds. One is reality, the other reflects the awful emptiness of a mendacious world created by Viktor Orbán and his Christian Democratic allies who have a free rein in matters of education, culture, and film production.