Russian film braves law to tell gay love story


Demonstrators hug each other near the Russian embassy in Prague, Czech Rep., on Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013. About a hundred gay rights supporters protested Moscow’s policies on homosexuality. AP

MOSCOW – A taboo-breaking Russian film tackling the topic of gay love may have earned critical plaudits but its makers fear few will ever see the movie given the crackdown on so-called “homosexual propaganda.”

A controversial new law signed in June by President Vladimir Putin makes it legal to ban events that could be seen as promoting homosexuality to minors.

Western stars including British actor Stephen Fry and US pop star Lady Gaga have publicly criticized the law, which so far has been largely used as a threat rather than enforced.

So when the makers of “Winter Journey,” a passionate story of a gay classical singer falling in love with a street-wise petty criminal, pitched it to one of Russia’s main summer film festivals, Kinotavr, they were surprised it was refused.

“For the organizers of the festival it was uncomfortable, because there is such a law, so they thought it was better not to get involved,” director Sergei Taramayev told AFP.

“At least people who were in the jury told us that this was the reason why we were not accepted for Kinotavr.”

The film’s co-writer Lyubov Lvova said she believed festivals feared they could lose funding if they showed the film.

“At many festivals – Russian ones – this scared the organizers a lot. They were afraid of this law, that it could stop them getting financing for their festivals.”

Taramayev said they did not even submit the film to Russia’s main film forum, Moscow International Film Festival – opened by Brad Pitt this summer – because of the views of its organizer, Oscar-winning director Nikita Mikhalkov.

“He supports the government’s line and is a very political director and we realized that they would not take us.”

Nevertheless, Kommersant daily’s film critic Lidya Maslova argued that the film would “look great at any European festival.”

‘We can’t quite believe this miracle’

The film won prizes at the two smaller Russian festivals where it was shown, at the Window into Europe festival in Vyborg in northwestern Russia in August and at Moscow Premiere in September.

The film takes its title from a Schubert song cycle, Winterreise, that the hero, Erik, a music student, is anxiously practicing for a competition.

His teacher slams his unemotional performance, until Erik is transformed by a chance meeting with his polar opposite: Lyokha, a manic, foul-mouthed youth from a dead-end provincial town who is frankly homophobic.

“Don’t you have enough poofters already?” he asks, catching Erik’s adoring gaze.

Nevertheless they click, and share a climactic kiss.

But ultimately, Lyokha is unable to accept his feelings.

The film’s makers said they believed the low-budget film was awarded an 18 certificate because of the new law.

The adults-only release is perhaps justified by scenes of smoking spliffs, vodka swilling and swearing, but probably not by the film’s one gay kiss.

But the film’s makers expressed relief that the culture ministry permitted its release at all.

“We still can’t quite believe in this miracle,” said co-writer Lvova.

Only a few Russian films have featured gay characters in a country where the fear and dread of homosexuality, a criminal offence in the Soviet era, still casts a shadow.

Homosexual relationships were legalized in 1993, but Russia’s medical establishment only ceased classing homosexuality as a psychiatric condition in 1999.

“The Creation of Adam” about a man falling for his guardian angel, which came out in 1993, is seen as Russia’s first gay-themed film.

Later films have included the 2009 drama called “Jolly Fellows,” a sympathetic but ultimately tragic story about drag queens working in a Moscow night club.

‘This isn’t a gay drama’

“Winter Journey” won a warm reception from critics, who nevertheless predicted it would only reach a small audience.

Kommersant praised Yevgeny Tkachuk’s “natural” performance, while Vedomosti business daily called the film “a very serious and subtle artistic statement.”

Komsomolskaya Pravda called it “wonderfully talented.”

Vedomosti critic Dmitry Savelyev praised the director for “not worrying about the danger of getting a reputation as a propagandist for influences that are alien to our people.”

The actors however said they preferred not to call it a “gay film.”

“This isn’t a gay drama,” said actor Vladimir Mishukov, who plays a paramedic in love with Erik, at a Moscow presentation.

“The world is multi-faceted, and we are the same.”

“For me it’s all exaggeration calling this a gay film. It’s a story about a romantic attitude to life,” said actor Yevgeny Tkachuk, who plays Lyokha.

The makers said they chose to make the hero gay because this exacerbates his sense of alienation.

“It underlines his loneliness and conflict with the world. That is why we made him gay, to make him more in conflict with society,” Taramayev said.

“We will put off a certain number of viewers, that is for sure. But when we made the film we were not counting on making a blockbuster for the broad public. It’s not the ‘Dark Knight’,” he said, referring to the 2008 Batman film.

It was unclear whether the film would get a wider release.

“As for a cinema release, at the moment we are holding talks, but so far there is nothing concrete…” producer Mikhail Karasyov wrote in an e-mail to AFP on Tuesday.

Get Inquirer updates while on the go, add us on these apps:

Inquirer Viber

Disclaimer: The comments uploaded on this site do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of management and owner of We reserve the right to exclude comments that we deem to be inconsistent with our editorial standards.

  • Peter Rudy

    ” GAY ” is a EUPHEMISM – 1. The use of a word or phase that is less expressive or direct , but considered less distasteful , less offensive , etc ., than another . As if they can deceive , fool . or otherwise ” pull the wool over our eyes ” . Homosexuality is not normal , but abnormal and most importantly , IMMORAL .
    Do a simple YAHOO SEARCH – ” The Homosexual Lifestyle ” , ” The Diseases of Homosexuals ” and last butt not least , ” Homosexuals and Their Diseases ” .
    Check out – Heterosexuals 4 Life [ Facebook ]
    Also , ” 7 Scientific Facts about Homosexuality and it’s adverse effects on Society “.
    And not surprisingly according to the US Government Agency website of Center’s for Disease Control . Homosexuals are the most afflicted with HIV / AIDS , WORLDWIDE .

    • Bob Jones

      According to google, the dictionary of today’s youth, when you ask it to “define gay” you get:

      Search Results
      adjective: gay; comparative adjective: gayer; superlative adjective: gayest
      (of a person, esp. a man) homosexual.
      “that friend of yours, is he gay?”
      synonyms:homosexual, lesbian More
      “gay men and women”
      relating to or used by homosexuals.
      “feminist, black, and gay perspectives”
      lighthearted and carefree.
      “Nan had a gay disposition and a very pretty face”
      brightly colored; showy; brilliant.
      “a gay profusion of purple and pink sweet peas”
      informal, offensive
      foolish, stupid, or unimpressive.
      “making students wait for the light is kind of a gay rule”
      noun: gay; plural noun: gays
      a homosexual, esp. a man.
      It’s about as much of a euphemism as negro is for the Spanish word for the color that defines the absence of light.

      Additionally, if you look up the CDC’s statistics for sexually transmitted diseases you will find that heterosexual women are MUCH likelier to get STDs when compared to lesbians than men who have sex with men compared to heterosexual men. Correlation is not causation.

To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.

Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:

c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City,Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94