Gay-themed Romanian drama Poppy Field, directed by Eugen Jebeleanu and Ioana Moraru, draws inspiration from the numerous real life protests that have faced queer cinema screenings in Eastern Europe. Injecting a conflicted human narrative into the heart of this ensures that Poppy Field is a compelling watch in its examination of the homophobia that plagues many former Soviet republics.
Closeted Romanian police officer Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) has a long distance relationship with Paris-based Hadi (Radouan Leflahi). This relationship is kept a secret from his macho colleagues, with the oppressive nature of this boiling over when his team are called to an incident where a queer film screening has been invaded by right wing protesters.
Opening capturing the relationship between Cristi and Hadi – who can barely keep their hands off each other in the elevator of Cristi’s flat block. A passionate and heated exchange follows before the pressures of Cristi’s closeted lifestyle begin to become apparent. A visit from Cristi’s sister (Radouan Leflahi) sees an argument erupt as she criticises her brother’s reluctance to show Hadi off and explore the city and countryside with him. Hadi is quietly disappointed and begrudgingly at peace with his partner’s attitudes. In her screenplay, Iona Moraru finds much dramatic ground in this concept and the strain this takes on Cristi.
Simple exchanges between Cristi and his colleagues unveil the intrinsic macho culture within his work environment, with a quiet yet impressively complex turn from Conrad Mericoffer capturing the internal struggle within the central character. The actor showcases a tremendous intensity – particularly as the team arrive at the screening. With cinema-goers furious about having to show identity cards, whilst protesters freely disrupted the screening – tensions grow heated and increasingly volatile. Director Eugen Jebeleanu captures this with an impressive authenticity, a fly on the wall naturally observing the simmering atmosphere. His direction is calm, yet involving drawing us into Cristi’s struggle and the quietly dramatic events at the screening.
After encountering a former date at the screening who intends on spilling the details of Cristi’s sexuality to officers, Cristi escalates matters – resulting in him being isolated in the empty theatre whilst his colleagues attempt to diffuse the situation in the lobby. This encasement, paralleling Cristi’s own sexual entrapment, allowing Mericoffer to showcase a complex and utterly compelling dramatic turn. Initially quietly sympathetic to the cinema-goers, Cristi veers into making false accusations and launching homophobic slurs in an attempt to protect his closeted sexuality from his colleagues.
The structure changes somewhat with Cristi entrapped with each of his colleagues taking turn to talk to him in the empty theatre. Some share similar homophobic rhetorics, others use Cristi as a soundboard for their own relationship problems, and an other has a knowing yet somewhat conversation with Cristi potentially displaying an awareness of his sexuality. The whole time we get a sense of the twisting and turning emotional journey of Cristi – from self-loathing to desperation to cover for himself.
As the narrative progresses and the situation diffuses, we get a sense of Cristi’s emotional progress in a striking, yet quietly poignant scene in the film’s final moments.
There is a compelling character drama at the heart of Poppy Field showcased through a sublime leading turn from Conrad Mericoffer, a sensitive screenplay from Iona Moraru and Eugen Jebeleanu’s beautifully natural direction.