Sarajevo Film Festival 2024

Between bricks, bytes, and belonging

IDENTITY / How do marginalised individuals navigate societal structures meant to exclude them? 'Fairy Garden' offers a raw and authentic look into the lives of two such people in Hungary.

In the aftermath of Hungary’s 2021 Act LXXIX—known widely as the anti-LGBT law—Gergo Somogyvari’s documentary Fairy Garden offers a haunting look into the nation’s fringes by honing in on Hungary’s tightening grip on LGBTQ+ rights and homelessness. Through keen observation, the film portrays the lives of Fanni, a statuesque nineteen-year-old navigating her gender transition, and Laci, a sixty-year-old man with a frequent past of homelessness. Both find sanctuary in a crumbling abode deep within Hungary’s forests, aka their «fairy garden»

Fairy Garden Gergö Somogyvári
Fairy Garden, a film by Gergö Somogyvári

Embracing and cruel

The film’s first moments set the scene: Laci is engrossed in crafting a makeshift home, each hammered nail a defiant echo against society’s limitations. In parallell, Fanni delicately balances the precarious line of digital media, seeking affirmation in an online world that’s as welcoming as it is harsh. Battling societal prejudices, they find a shared language of care, dependence, and rebellion in their relationship.

More than just circumventing social barriers, their bond aims to alleviate one of the 21st Century’s most pervasive issues: loneliness. By any measure, loneliness (particularly among young Western men) is on the exponential rise. Exacerbated by the pandemic, a throw of the dart at the western map will yield numbers likes: 61% of Americans feel lonely, 54% of Canadians, and 1 in 4 Australians. Furthermore, post-pandemic, WHO has officially recognised loneliness as a major risk factor for health conditions like heart disease, anxiety, and depression. Though never overtly mentioned in Fairy Garden, the loneliness for Fanni and, perhaps more intensely, for Laci, is clear. This becomes evident when Laci overly screens a prospective employer for Fanni. His urgency reveals a collective protective instinct, fear of abandonment, and an unspoken acknowledgement of the dangerous world beyond their peculiar forest haven—filled with horror masks, adult magazines, and plastic toys.

Both find sanctuary in a crumbling abode deep within Hungary’s forests.

Respective complecity

Fanni’s online life has an inescapable allure. As her physical world and identity face threats from bureaucracy and laws, her digital realm offers precarious sanctuary. Her interactions paint a larger picture of today’s digital society: the search for validation against anonymity and the hustle of the gig economy. This economy often leaves online sex work as the only available option, with other roles corporatised and identity-restricted. Fanni’s online life is both a validation space and a relentless scrutiny arena, a dangerous combination for her fluctuating mental health. Her journey’s physical and emotional toll is palpable as she often switches from bright white smiles to doped-up disillusion.

While Fanni’s struggles with gender identity and digital existence are vividly portrayed, Fairy Garden also offers a glimpse into Laci’s respective complexities. His relentless commitment to building, patching, and nurturing their woodland dwelling is more than just a physical act of self-occupation or a place holding some iota of stability amongst the chaos outside. It’s a symbolic defiance, a tangible grasp at autonomy and self-preservation in a society increasingly hostile to those on the fringes of its far-right leanings, whether it be ageism, traditionalism, or straight-up bigotry. His commitment to physical construction within a country actively deconstructing human rights symbolises this broader theme of defiance in the face of systemic prejudice.

The film’s portrayal of Fanni’s physical and emotional journey serves as a stark reminder of the real-life implications of Hungary’s regressive laws. Her bodily desire for femininity, juxtaposed with her frustration with hormonal treatments, echoes the sentiments of countless individuals around the globe grappling with gender dysphoria. Of course, regressive laws on the issue are hardly specific to Hungary. In the United States there have been increasing anti-transgender laws, both blatant and hidden, across its «red states.» Of these, states such as Tennessee and Florida hold some of the most stringent – the former effectively banning transgender care, and the latter, with its supposed Trump-challenging presidential candidate governor at the helm, unveiling a steady stream of legislation targeting anyone outside of its problematic heteronormative identity aspirations.

Fairy Garden Gergö Somogyvári
Fairy Garden, a film by Gergö Somogyvári

Embedded in routine

What makes Fairy Garden resonate is Somogyvari’s handling of its myriad themes, resulting in a documentary that is reflective and informative. Without taking its focus off them, the film ensures viewers remain embedded in Fanni and Laci’s daily routines. The film serves as a microcosm of the larger challenges faced by individuals who, for various reasons, find themselves at the peripheries of mainstream society. Through the intricacies of Fanni and Laci’s relationship, Fairy Garden sheds light on the universal human need for acceptance, the pursuit of self-affirmation, and the impact of societal structures meant to marginalise rather than empower.

But Fairy Garden is hardly a film solely about two marginalised individuals but a broader commentary on the tussles between personal identity, increasingly binary societal norms, and, of course, the digital age that perpetuates them all. As audiences across the globe grapple with shifting understandings of identity and acceptance, it offers both a mirror and a window, urging viewers to reflect on their own prejudices and the ever-evolving definition of ‘home’ and ‘identity’ in ever-so-complicated (unnecessarily) 21st Century.

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Steve Rickinson
Steve Rickinson
Steve lives in Bucharest, Romania. He is Communications Manager and Industry Editor of MTR.

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