Sarajevo 2023 review: Fairy Garden (Gergö Somogyvári)

“Profoundly beautiful and deeply touching, this documentary shows a few different sides of the human condition, particularly in its aims to show the compassion beneath the callousness that has been a driving factor in the lives of these fascinating individuals.”

As far as narrative tropes go, the odd couple scenario is one of the most overused premises in modern storytelling, and it is difficult to find a film built on this foundation in an original or inventive way. If anything, the consistency and reliability of these stories may be a strength, since it offers some sense of security based on a long legacy of similar films that use these ideas to their benefit, allowing the audience to have some idea of what to expect. In the case of Fairy Garden, a balance of tradition and subversion is what makes it so effective. Directed by Gergö Somogyvári, who has carved out a niche for himself as someone who offers insightful and meaningful glances into Hungarian culture, this is a moving documentary that tells the story of two wayward souls that find each other by chance – Fanni is a 19-year-old transgender woman who has been disowned by her family, while Laci is an elderly man who has been living on the streets for some time. Both are resigned to their fate as members of the steadily growing homeless population that came about as a result of Viktor Orbán’s draconian policies, which had their most substantial impact on minorities and marginalized groups. The protagonists come from wildly different walks of life, and their reasons for being homeless vary – but they have a few traits in common, such as both having been ostracized by a society that was never able to accept them. Through their interactions, they develop a strong bond that proves how the most meaningful friendships are often the most unexpected.

When it comes to a film like Fairy Garden, the most significant way for it to make a lasting impact is to be effective on both a conceptual and emotional level, both of which are certainly present throughout this film. The director approaches the story of these two characters non-judgmentally and works closely with them to provide a concise and meaningful overview of their daily routines. It is always clear when a documentary filmmaker is truly enamoured with his subjects, and while this film can be quite conventional, it is still very plainly a labour of love. Somogyvári employs aspects of cinéma verité to craft a documentary that is almost entirely observational, never once implying that it intends to be persuasive or forceful in delivering a certain idea, but gradually building on existing material that is sufficiently fascinating and a major reason why the film is so successful in capturing an authentic, earnest depiction of the lives of these characters. Perhaps it could be argued that the camera lingers too long on the smaller details, leaving the more interesting conversations to sometimes fall by the wayside, but for the most part, Fairy Garden takes a very ambitious approach to a simple concept, becoming an extraordinarily affecting documentary that offers some meaningful insights into the lives of its subjects as they weather various existential and social storms together.

The reasons for making this film are not difficult to understand – the very nature of the subject makes it abundantly clear why the director was drawn to this story. Two people who have been forced into homelessness find each other while they are at their lowest and form a friendship that defies the odds and proves how some of the most meaningful connections often come about in unexpected ways. However, it isn’t only the premise that draws us in, but also the smaller details that Somogyvári utilizes in the process. This is a film about finding a home – not only the physical kind (which takes the form of the titular ramshackle “fairy garden”, the small piece of paradise that Fanni and Laci have built for themselves as a safe haven from the outside world), but also the emotional and psychological sanctuary that is a fundamental human right, yet not always guaranteed to those deemed unworthy of equal treatment. Focused on two individuals existing on the margins of society, Fairy Garden explores their feelings of despair, and shows how the protagonists, despite being different in just about every way imaginable, find common ground in their shared feelings of isolation and their status as societal pariahs; people rejected from mainstream society for who they are as people, judged for qualities that are out of their control. They share the same angst and despair, but also a similar hopefulness for a better day – and it is in this precise sense of optimism that Somogyvári is able to find the true meaning of this film, which he conveys in a simple but strikingly beautiful manner, showing the lives of these people through the most moving and compassionate perspective.

Fairy Garden is an extremely simple film, albeit one with a very strong message embedded right at its core. There are many discussions that could be had, and this film does touch on several ideas, such as the political context that placed these characters in this position and the social milieu that is occurring around them. However, what makes this film so intriguing is how it develops primarily on the central theme, which is focused on exploring the friendship between these two profoundly lonely people who were adrift in a world that rejected them, found one another and established a connection based on a common crisis. Over time, we see each of them struggle with their own individual journey, while supporting one another as they encounter new challenges. It has a deeply melancholic tone, and the moments of humour are contrasted by a lot of sadness in many instances, which creates a harsh but still very powerful story about identity and individuality, as well as the seemingly insurmountable obstacles that stand in their way. Fairy Garden does not have the happy ending we were hoping for – Somogyvári may adore his subjects, but he isn’t foolish enough to try and reconfigure their story into something that ends on a positive note – but it does have a hopeful conclusion, one that pays tribute to the unquenchable desire to improve your situation against all odds. Profoundly beautiful and deeply touching, this documentary shows a few different sides of the human condition, particularly in its aims to show the compassion beneath the callousness that has been a driving factor in the lives of these fascinating individuals.