(Land of Storms)
Directed by Ádám Császi
105 min, Hungary | Germany, 2014
I was engaged for the first third of this Hungarian/German GTM about a Hungarian teen who plays football for a German school or team (the details here weren’t made clear), but has a fight with a teammate in the shower, as you do, because it seems like the latter is checking out his bod. Back home in Hungary, he falls into a sexual relationship with a local boy, who may or may not be gay, but sure as hell doesn’t want to be. The two get sexy with each other and then rather passive/aggressive. Despondent and lonely, the Hungarian teen invites the friend from school who was checking out his bod to visit him — now it’s OK, I guess — and a threeway happens. Then something awful happens. Christ.
If I ignored the plot gaps and just enjoyed the symmetrically framed compositions, mostly in long shot — two boys/lovers repairing a tiled roof in the countryside, dwarfed by its architecture, is just one striking example — but also in medium close-up — a tender and passionate moment, composed planimetrically of the two boys exploring each other’s mouths, one laid on top of the other — then I enjoyed it. I also liked some of the elliptical cuts, as the film bounces around geographically and from thread to thread, sometimes comically.
Nothing’s as funny, however, as the opening shots of the boys sprawled on a pitch, shot from overhead, getting lectured on how much football is like life. When the camera tilts and tilts again, I thought we were really going to see something. But no. The film’s overhead shots are some of its most evocative, and funny — a skinny-dipping threesome/wrestling match in a pond at night; the same three in bed together. Looked like heaven to me. What the fuck were they complaining about?
But once the familiar macho, self-hating-closet-case narrative took over, accompanied by typical GTM tropes like moped rides, nude bathing, and skinhead homophobes beating the crap out of someone, I mostly lost interest.
The milieu is just not consistently realized even though parts of it are quite pretty to look at, as are the boys, and the characters are sketchy or just empty. I guess it’s based on a true story. Some visual intelligence is on display here, and some skill with young actors, but I didn’t feel like it took me anywhere I hadn’t been before.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I liked Peyote, a more modest and likeable depiction of teenage boy-love that I also re-watched recently, than I did this lugubrious, tragic, at times very sexy, and by some measures more artful accomplishment.
It must have to do with my own personal bias in believing that sex, and more broadly the realization of who and what makes you happy, is a liberating force rather than a dark path leading to death, murder, and obliteration, which is where Land of Storms inexorably ends up. (But then I’m re-reading Leaves of Grass at the moment.) Despite some convincing erotic scenarios and an unshakable rapport between the leads, I couldn’t ignore the conviction put forth here that we pay dearly for having hope in human connections and in maintaining empathy, and for just wanting to get laid and wake up next to someone.
I’m always suspicious of films that stamp their conceits with “Based on a true story,” as this one does, without providing any other context or proof. As in most instances, it’s a facile justification for believing the worst, not only in ourselves, but, from the point of view of the filmmakers’, in the audience.
I didn’t despise this project, as I did the equally arty but additionally sex-phobic Stranger by the Lake, but I’m not inclined to praise a film that so obviously preys on our fears.