Berlin 2014: 'Land of Storms' review

★★★☆☆
Ádám Császi's debut film Land of Storms (2014) is a tale of gay sexual awakening in rural Hungary that renders the endorphine rush of ecstasy that blooms during youthful infatuation. Told through a series of visually salient passages, Császi's confident debut provides another voice in the current collective discourse regarding gay rights in Eastern Europe. Szabo (András Sütö) plays for the youth team of a professional German football club. He spends his free time socialising with the rest of the players, partaking in late night drinking binges, communal pornography screenings and mutual masturbation sessions.

Szabo's manager sees Szabo's potential, and rides him hard, determined to get the best out of him. However, there's something about this overtly masculine environment that doesn't suit this young footballing prodigy, and after an argument with his manager over a merited red card, he decides to return to Hungary in search of a new life. Opposing his father's wishes, he moves to his Grandfather's old house in the country, determined to fix it up and keep bees. He can't do all the labour by himself and ends up hiring a young man named Arun (Ádám Varga) who he first encounters when he attempted to steal Szabo's moped. The pair are instantly compatible, and it isn't long before their true feelings begin to rise to the surface.

Császi's idyllic rural ménage à trois could so easily have become a trite and sleazy drama were it not for the visually refined cinematography of the talented Marcell Rév, whose ornate imagery helps accentuate Császi's highly developed eye for framing and composition. This isn't to say that the film doesn't conform to the usual clichés and heavy-handed symbolism that have dominated this particular genre of cinema in the past. Whilst Land of Storms boasts a host of poignant and evocatively haptic imagery, the on screen relationships never quite feel fully developed, cutting all too willingly from the libidinous glance of their romance's initial gestation to the overpowering fixations that leads to their inevitable downfall.

Land of Storms is, ultimately, another film about Eastern European homophobia that, whilst pertinent to contemporary issues, ultimately feels like a story we've seen portrayed before. Even the film's subtle swipe at the paradoxical homophobia in the testosterone fuelled world of sport has been represent in Tomasz Wasilewski's clinical sophomore effort, Floating Skyscrapers (2013). Császi's confidently unchaste tale about forbidden desires in the disobliging environs of rural Hungary commendably never shies away from the sexuality at the core of its story, all the while never succumbing to gratuitous overt eroticism.

Switching from picturesque wide-angled landscape shots to tight, intimate close-ups, Császi depicts sex in an erogenous, yet guarded fashion to highlight the tenderness of these sexual encounters rather than merely depict the corporeal covetousness their lecherous glances might otherwise presuppose. Heavily emblematic and often a little heavy handed, Land of Storms may feel like a reproduction of other film's highlighting homophobia, yet thanks to Császi's direction and some nuanced performances from the film's trio of deliriously infatuated young men we're left with an intensely beautiful replica of a sadly germane issue.

The 2014 Berlin Film Festival takes place from 6-16 February. For more of our coverage, simply follow this link.

Patrick Gamble

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