Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 0, No 35
24 May 1999

K I N O E Y E:
Slovakia Comes Out of the Closet
Vladimir Adasek's 100% Cista laska II. - vasen

Andrew James Horton

In the straight white male-dominated world of cinema where profit and image are everything, making films which represent minority viewpoints can often be difficult. Inevitably, many film-makers operating outside the mindset of the marketing geeks in polyester suits are forced to more independent means. This means that much of the body of lesbian and gay cinema lie in short films, which can be made cheaply with minimum production interference from outside.

Even in America, the birth-place of political correctness, the actual number of lesbian and gay films being produced is surprisingly low and much of the section devoted to feature films at the 13th London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival actually consisted of films like The Sound of Music which have been reclaimed as gay but were, in all probability, not intended as such.

In this environment, it is of little surprise to find there were no feature films at the festival from Central Europe (unless you count the rerun of Mildred Pierce by Micheal Curtis - a director better known to Hungarian cinephiles as Michal Kertesz).

Politics and sexual repression

This should hardly be surprising. Under Communism, Central European sexual morality was dictated by the Party as much as economic policy and, in a rare moment of synergy, Communist orthodoxy took the same view as the Catholic Church.

Communism in its early days was rather more liberal in its outlook and the years immediately following the 1920s saw the tenets of bourgeois sexuality, as epitomised by marriage, exploded. Radical feminists such as Aleksandra Kolontai supported the idea of "love-play" (a pre-cursor to free love) and an entire generation of opportunistic males jubilantly interpreted liberation as absolving them from all family responsibilities.

This sexual experiment, like much of the 1917 revolution, was a disaster, and the number of single mothers, abandoned children and abortions rocketed. To a political ideology obsessed with industrialising the country, single mothers were not good news and were seen to inhibit efficiency. Thus, in the late 1920s Stalin (who it should be noted had an appallingly unsuccessful personal life himself) clamped down on the decadency and reinforced the bourgeois family values which the revolution had overturned.

As Central Europe was frogmarched into Communism after World War II, it too saw the repressive effects of Stalinist morality, and an entire swathe of Europe missed out on the full effects of the sexual revolution of the 1960s.

Housing shortages meant it was almost impossible for offspring to leave the family home until they married, further limiting the degree to which sexuality could be experimented with. The consequence today is that and a large majority of Central Europeans still hold very conservative views of sexuality and gender and are embarrassingly squeamish about homosexuality.

A surprise producer

Obviously then, to make a film with a homosexual theme in Central Europe requires some perseverance and courage. In this respect, it is interesting to chart how the two films with Central European provenance shown at this year's London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival both came to be made.

Nathilde Overrein Rapp's Tidewater (Poland/Norway, 1996) is a tale of anguish and loss set against a backdrop of the Wisla river and the music of PJ Harvey. The cast is entirely Polish but the director, the script-writer, the director of photography and various other members of the crew are Norwegian. The film was, however, produced by PWSFTviT, the Polish film school in Lodz; this suggests that the film was not made with distribution foremost in mind.

Rather a more surprising backer of gay cinema is Slovenska Televizia (STV), the state-owned Slovak TV channel broadcast nationally, which produced Vladimir Adasek's 100% Cista laska II. - vasen (100% Pure Love II - Passion, 1996). This is all the more surprising given that the film also received support from the Statny Fond Kultury pro Slovensko (the State Cultural Fund for Slovakia).

Neither organisation was particularly famous for its liberal attitude at the time the film was made and both bodies were associated with censorship in the years when Vladimir Meciar led the country. Programmes and films which showed a "positive" image of Slovakia and traditional Slovak values were encouraged, while all others met with opposition.

Making light

Perhaps, the influence of the Slovak branch of the Soros Centre for Contemporary Arts, which also poured in money, had a significant role in this film being made. More likely, however, it had something to do with the film's content. 100% Cista laska II. - vasen is a bizarre psycho-sexual murder mystery about film-making.

Adasek, who co-wrote the script and also plays the lead role, presents his homosexuality in a way that is so disarmingly bizarre that it seems non-threatening. Stereotypes are played up to their fullest and the sharp editing turns the actors into cartoon characters. This humorous approach undoubtedly softened the blow for the old fogies at STV who advocated a "Meciarist" approach.

Excluded social groups usually go through a number of intermediate stages before they can be accepted fully. Total exclusion means that there is no open debate on the subject and the subject itself may appear not to exist. The next stage is moral outrage.

Although not much of a progression, it at least demonstrates that the subject can be raised in some context in public. After this, comes a stage in which the subject is not accepted as such but can be joked about. This is the one which the producers, if not Adasek himself, would seem to be working in (although probably subconsciously).

This makes Adasek's clowning far from demeaning and raises parallels with Graham Chapman's portrayal of his own homosexuality throughout the TV series Monty Python's Flying Circus. Chapman persuaded a hitherto conservative British public that homosexuality was not offensive after all and was actually hilarious. In doing so, a whole new area of sexuality suddenly entered the domain of polite conversation. If Adasek could only promote his brand of subversive humour further, he might be able to have the same effect on Slovak society's thinking on homosexuality as Monty Python had in Britain.

100% Cista laska II. - vasen is a highly amusing and enjoyable film and the fact that it was co-produced by STV says much about how liberalism in Slovak society is starting to gain ground in unusual places. However, it only handles the realities of homosexuality obliquely and most of the time is engaged in a fantasy world. This is much of the film's charm, of course, but it is a far cry from a hard-hitting portrayal of life in Slovakia in or out of the closet. When STV starts producing films like that, liberalism will have truly arrived in Central Europe.

Andrew James Horton, 24 May 1999

This film appeared as part of the 13th Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. For more information about the Festival contact:

The London Lesbian and Gay Film Festival
National Film Theatre
South Bank
Waterloo
London SE1 8XT
Tel: +44 (0) 171 815 1323
Fax: +44 (0) 171 633 0786

Click here for the Festival's website and here for the website of the British Film Institute, which runs both the National Film Theatre and the Festival.

 

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