The Watchlist: Celebrating Pride Month with The Pink Pickle

The Watchlist is Klassiki’s occasional series of themed viewing recommendations drawing from the cinema of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. In this edition, we join forces with The Pink Pickle to celebrate Pride Month with a selection of six LGBTQ-themed titles past and present.

And Then We Danced (dir. Levan Akin, 2019)

During Pride Month, Klassiki is partnering with The Pink Pickle, a queer database of creatives from Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, to spotlight queer films from the Cold War era to the present. The Pink Pickle aims to show that queer people have always existed in the region, countering government attempts to erase queer history and claim that the rise of LGBTQ+ rights is a modern phenomenon imported from the “West”. It is crucial to remember that queer people have always existed – and just like Pride month, film serves as a powerful medium for illustrating this truth. By challenging societal norms and highlighting the struggles and triumphs of queer individuals, films foster empathy, raise awareness, and inspire activism. Through compelling storytelling, filmmakers can convey the complexities of queer experiences, confront prejudice, and advocate for a more inclusive society.

Ants’ Nest (dir. Zoltán Fábri, 1971)

Adapted from Margit Kaffka’s 1917 novel, Ants’ Nest weaves together themes of growth, religious critique, and political metaphor. The film unfolds within a convent where the imminent selection of a new abbess unveils underlying tensions – political, generational, and sexual. As the current abbess ails, the convent divides: younger nuns, led by Virginia, advocate for modernising the strict religious protocols and endorse Sister Magdolna for the role, while the older nuns resist change. However, Magdolna hesitates due to Virginia’s inappropriate attraction and manipulative tactics. Fábri’s work resonates with the disillusionment of post-1968 Europe, portraying a society where female desires and democratic ideals are stifled by authoritative forces. Recognised for its bold exploration of female sexuality, Ants’ Nest is often seen as a gateway film for future Hungarian queer cinema, paving the way for more inclusive narratives and representations in the country’s cinematic landscape.

Watch Ants’ Nest on Klassiki now.

Ants’ Nest (dir. Zoltán Fábri, 1971)

The Parade (dir. Srdjan Dragojević, 2012)

The Parade fearlessly delves into the contentious 2010 Belgrade gay pride parade – one of several such events to be subject to homophobic and nationalist violence in the Balkans in recent years – blending comedy and drama without recourse to cliché. Although it was criticised by some for its use of stereotypes and lack of political correctness, the movie gradually reveals its depth as the story unfolds. Through the unlikely bond formed between Limun, a heterosexual ex-warlord, and Radmilo, a gay veterinarian, the film explores themes such as ethnic tensions and homoeroticism. The shadow of the region’s recent wars hangs over proceedings, as Radmilo embarks on a mission to recruit a security detail for a Pride parade from amongst former combatants from Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. While some may find its approach polarising, its satire certainly prompts introspection on challenging societal issues like homophobia and ethnic conflict. Dragojević seems intent on sparking dialogue and contemplation, targeting an audience willing to engage with its themes and social critique.

 

Bread and Salt (dir. Damian Kocur, 2022)

Bread and Salt, the feature debut from Poland’s Damian Kocur, offers a poignant exploration of life in a provincial town, delicately unveiling the challenges of nonconformity in a stifling environment without resorting to explicit statements of purpose. Tymek, a young pianist returning home for the summer, navigates a world where silence often feels safer than speaking out. Amid tensions between local youth and employees of the newly opened kebab bar, Tymek grapples with his own identity and desires. A subtle flirtation with Youssef, an employee at the kebab shop, hints at unspoken connections amidst pervasive prejudice. Basing the action on a real-life murder that sparked race riots in provincial Poland, Kocur skilfully captures the palpable tension, conveying the weight of constant microaggressions and the threat of violence.

Watch Bread and Salt on Klassiki now.

Bread and Salt (dir. Damian Kocur, 2022)

Balaban (dir. Aysulu Onaran, 2022)

Balaban offers a unique and poignant perspective on a coming-of-age lesbian love story within the context of Kazakhstan. In a country where LGBTQ+ narratives are often marginalised or silenced, Aysulu Onaran’s film courageously brings to light the experiences of Ardak and Zhanna, two young women grappling with their sexual identity. Balaban is inspired by a real-life scandal which saw 160 Kazakh children infected with HIV following tainted blood transfusions; Ardak and Zhanna are initially brought together by their shared HIV-positive status, before embarking on a perilous romantic adventure. A tender teen drama enriched by naturalistic performances and deeply empathetic directing.

 

Hammer and Sickle (dir. Sergei Livnev, 1994)

Sergei Livnev’s Hammer and Sickle is a bold exploration of gender and power dynamics within Stalinist society. This nineties cult classic follows the journey of female tractor driver Evdokia, who undergoes a gender reassignment procedure and is transformed into the model New Soviet Man, Evdokim. Blending dark satire with elements of comedy, the film makes the most of the artistic free-for-all of the chaotic post-Soviet nineties to reimagine communist-era imagery, offering a unique perspective on 20th-century history. As the protagonist navigates Stalinist power struggles and encounters figures from his past, Hammer and Sickle boldly challenges societal norms and sets the stage for future queer cinema in Russia and beyond.

Watch Hammer and Sickle on Klassiki now.

 

And Then We Danced (dir. Levan Akin, 2019)

And Then We Danced portrays the journey of a young man named: an aspiring Georgian folk dancer navigating his passion for dance and his feelings for newcomer Irakli. The film delicately explores Merab’s blossoming relationship with Irakli against the backdrop of Georgia’s conservative attitudes towards homosexuality. In response to the film’s depiction of a gay love affair, ultra-conservative groups in Georgia threatened protests and attempted to halt screenings, citing opposition to what they perceived as a challenge to Georgian and Christian values. Despite the efforts of protesters, police intervention ensured that all planned screenings proceeded as scheduled – although clashes occurred – highlighting the ongoing struggle for LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance within Georgia’s polarised civil society.

Luke Stamps is the founder of The Pink Pickle, a database of queer creatives from Eastern Europe. He also works full-time for the LGBTI+ human rights charity Kaleidoscope Trust.