Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Pink Star of the East: Two films about homosexuality in the Eastern Block

Gay rights and Queer issues have become something of a point scoring trick in political forums today. Depending on the region or website "Leftists" either smugly tut tut at backward Conservative types with their family values crusades or fume that the workers movement has been high jacked by a rainbow coalition of western puppets/bourgeois decadence.

The treatment of homosexuals in "Socialist states" is rather poor, the regimes substituted religious dogmatism for  a more "rational" dogmatism about bourgeois relationships and proletarian relationships. A number of states like the Soviet Union and Romania where incredibly harsh in punishing those who didn't fit their very narrowly definition of behaviour. Others like East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary had abolished their legal objections to same sex relationships in the 60's. Famously the DDR beat West Germany to it by a year (1968 in the East, 1969 in the West). And curiously Yugoslavia in the 70's had some of its states repeal their laws on homosexuality while others kept them on the books until after Yugoslavia collapsed.

An important thing to keep in mind is that legal tolerance doesn't automatically mean acceptance or even social tolerance.

To date their have been some official state sanctioned works about being Gay under "actually existing socialism" a total of two as far as I can tell. One comes from East Germany (Coming Out)and premièred the day the Berlin Wall fell, and one from 1982 in Hungary (Another Way).  Both have been commercially released but information about them both is hard to come by. Fortunately youtube user Infamous Sphere has uploaded detailed reviews of both so we can see some of them.

Interesting to note that the DDR also follows the tradition of making Queer films look
 like porno's

Coming Out

Another Way

Note: If you ever have problems with out of sync subtitles there is an easy fix, watch the video in VLC media player and then click on this link 

An additional note, most if not all of the cast of Another Way where played by Polish Actors and then dubbed into Hungarian. The reason for this is that no Hungarian actor would work on the project, whether because of the fear of being associated with homosexuality or because the film was very critical of the regime in the 50's or both is debatable. But fortunately for the film a crackdown on civil liberties (such as they were) in the People's Republic of Poland (The country had been under martial law since 1981) lead to a massive protest and boycott by the Polish entertainment industry. Meaning that there were many out of work actors in Poland willing to take a chance on any project that would hire them, this is what Polish Wikipedia has to say on the subject, (Translated by user Madaffi)

No Hungarian actress dared to play in this film. At the time (1982), Poland was under martial law (since December 13, 1981) and Polish actors and actresses were boycotting state television (and there was no non-state television so they played in foreign films). Jadwiga Jankowska-Cieślak, who played Eva, was a part of a theatre group that was dissolved because her international success which came from this film didn't sit well with Communists that ruled Poland at the time. Furthermore, after she got a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, the only polish state run film production organisation that was allowed to deliver messages between foreign and domestic producers was flooded with calls and letters, but they were ordered by Communist Party of Poland to not pass it along to the actress - she received none and thought no-one was interested in hiring her for roles.

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