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By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - Gay characters and themes have become so common in film that it came as a shock when director Adam Csaszi said he changed his movie based on a true story about a gay footballer and his lover in rural Hungary because the reality was too brutal.
Speaking at the Berlin film festival, Csaszi said what actually happened in the incident on which his film "Viharsarok" ("Land of Storms") is based is that two gay men were killed by a third man who chopped up their bodies.
"If I told the real story...then the motive of the murder would be jealousy and not this homophobia in society," Csaszi told an audience at the film's Berlin premiere on Saturday.
He said he wanted to show that the local man growing up in a deeply religious rural environment, finding that he is attracted to men, "has no set of tools on how to deal with this homophobia and this is actually the motive of the murder".
Since Ang Lee's classic 2004 gay cowboy movie "Brokeback Mountain", or perhaps the even earlier French film "La Cage Aux Folles", gay-themed movies and characters have become increasingly mainstream.
But the offerings at the 64th Berlin International Film Festival, known officially as the Berlinale, illustrate a sharp divide between how the subject is treated in societies where homosexuality is no longer taboo, and places where the sight of a man kissing a man or a woman necking with another woman generates hostility, or sometimes violence.
In American director Ira Sachs' "Love Is Strange", screened in Berlin, two men who have been in a relationship for four decades take advantage of liberalized laws to get married - and promptly lose their New York apartment.
John Lithgow, who stars as one of the married men, told a festival news conference that the movie isn't so much about gay people and same-sex marriage as it is a study of a "cranky old marriage, like my own".
"People who have been committed to each other for 40 years should not be completely different just because they've been in a same-sex union," Lithgow said.
Sachs and Lithgow said the film was not intended to advocate on behalf of same-sex marriage, but Lithgow said he hoped it would be seen in Russia, which he did not cite by name while leaving no doubt about his meaning.
"There is a major nation in Europe which has a rule against propaganda on behalf of a gay lifestyle. I don't think our film is propaganda at all. I think it's real life," he said.
"Real life" is harsher and sometimes deadly for the characters in Csaszi's "Viharsarok" and also in the Philippine-made movie "Unfriend", about the country's obsession with social media and mobile phones that can have the side effect of "outing" people and revealing jealously guarded secrets.
The main character, 15-year-old David, is "out" in the online world, but his very Catholic grandmother with whom he lives has no idea. In a scene where he goes out to buy credit for the Internet, two young boys follow David, taunting him by calling him "faggot".
"The Internet has changed the way gays navigate through society, but it has also pushed us to the side because we are in the Internet, we are safer there," Joselito Altarejos, the film's director, told Reuters.
"At the same time it has also become a menu - what do you want - tall, smooth, old? I don't know where this whole thing is taking us to, but at the same time we have to accept that this is how we live now."
Csaszi's main character, the football player Szabolcs, returns to his late grandfather's derelict farm in the countryside after a crushing defeat of his club in Germany.
His encounter with local stonemason Aron at first promises a healthy relationship but turns sour when a member of the soccer club who also fancies Szabolcs turns up.
As word of Szabolcs', and then Aron's, sexual orientation gets around, they are both beaten up and ostracized by the locals in the small village where everyone is a churchgoer.
"I think we do have different developments" in tolerance from one country to another, Ulrich Ortlieb, 30, who works for a film festival in Hamburg, said after the screening.
"When they told that actually the real story was much heavier than they showed it to us (in the film) I thought then, 'Well, okay, in Hungary the situation is even worse'."
(Additional reporting by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mark Heinrich)