By David-Elijah Nahmod
It’s not easy being LGBTQ in Lithuania.
While homosexuality is legal, queer people have very few rights and the majority of Lithuanians are against equality. A 2016 Pew Research poll found that 69% of Lithuanians think homosexuality should not be accepted by society, while a 2019 Eurobarometer poll said only 30% of Lithuanians support same-sex marriage. 63% of the country’s population is against marriage equality.
Despite these challenges, Romas Zabarauskas lives on as a proud and proud activist and filmmaker. He doesn’t let the challenges of living in Lithuania stop him from living his life the way he wants to.
“It’s getting better and better,” Zabarauskas says of life in his native country. “On the one hand, there is a lot more visibility and diversity. But in terms of laws, not much has changed in the last ten years. We still have to legalize same-sex partnerships, let alone marriage, legislation and health care for trans people, a good education. Still, I’m hopeful that things will get better soon. Looking at the rest of the world and the recent anti-LGBT sentiment in some countries, it seems that at least we are moving in a positive direction in Lithuania.”
Zabarauskas is now promoting his latest film the lawyer, which is available on gay streaming service Dekkoo, on Amazon Prime and on DVD. The film is a tender and thought-provoking story about a gay lawyer from Vilnius who falls in love with a bisexual Syrian refugee whom he tries to help emigrate to greener pastures.
Eimutis Kvoščiauskas stars as Marius, the lawyer whose high-end life seems empty and who has been shaken by the death of his father. He connects with Ali (Dogac Yildiz), a Syrian prostitute who lives in a Serbian refugee camp. Marius travels to Belgrade to meet Ali, and the two begin a romance that is clearly doomed from the start.
“To a certain extent, what I am doing and what I want to do in Lithuania is impossible,” Zabarauskas said. “I feel like I’ve carved out an exceptional career path for myself despite the existing law on the protection of minors which could normally lead to state censorship of LGBT-related content, and despite all the obvious challenges.”
According to Zabarauskas, the lawyerhis third feature film, is the first to receive production funding from the Lithuanian Film Centre, which is the government’s official funding body.
“We decided to distribute the film ourselves, which is quite common practice in Lithuania for Lithuanian films,” he said. “I’m happy to say that we got a wide theatrical release in ten Lithuanian cities. All cinemas we contacted agreed to screen the film. We debuted in the Top 5 of the Lithuanian box office over the weekend. “Last end, Tenet occupying many films in the country. Screens at number one. It’s a great result for us, and with all the media attention we’re getting. I’m sure we’ll have a good run in theaters.”
The film is exceptionally well done, beautifully portrayed by the two leads who display tremendous on-screen chemistry with each other. Kvoščiauskas is hauntingly sober as the sad and seemingly lonely Marius, while Yildiz is quite effective as Ali, who is trapped in limbo and longs for a better life. Both actors are quite enjoyable to watch, and the film highlights many of the issues faced by LGBTQ refugees, who struggle far more than their straight counterparts – Ali has to hide his bisexuality from his comrades in the refugee camp where he lives.
“What about a special group or support networks for LGBT refugees here in Belgrade?” Marius asks a woman from a refugee aid organization.
“There isn’t”, is the reply.
“It is true that if the United States discusses the ethics for a straight actor to play a gay character, in Lithuania, where there are only a few openly gay actors, the situation is very different,” Zabarauskas said. . “Indeed, a few actors refused to participate in the casting for the role of Marius. But Kvoščiauskas did very well in the casting and agreed to take the role, and I couldn’t have hoped for a better result. Kvoščiauskas is an actor known in Lithuania but best known for his comedic talent, so this role is really important for him to show his range.”
The filmmaker explains what he was trying to convey in the lawyer: that humans are imperfect but still deserve empathy.
“Live your life to the fullest because it’s the only one you get,” he said.
And what does the author hope American viewers will take away from the film?
“I hope American viewers pick up on the playful notions of ‘West’ versus ‘East’ in our film,” he said. “Too often we succumb to stereotypes and draw lines where they don’t need to be.”