Review: Poppy Field

Directed by Eugen Jebeleanu and written by Ioana Moraru, following the struggle of a young Romanian gendarme, Cristi, who tries to find the balance between two apparently opposing parts of his identity: that of a man working in a macho hierarchical environment and that of a closeted gay person who tries to keep his personal life a secret. Starring: Conrad Mericoffer, Alexandru Potocean, Radouan Leflahi, Cendana Trifan, Ionut Niculae, Alex Calin, Rolando Matsangos, George Pistereanu and Florin Caracala.

The style of this film could very easily be compared to the likes of Locke or The Guilty, it’s closed off, intense and hyper focused on long, extended sequences of emotional turmoil. It is not intended to be an easy-going watch, it pushes the discomfort in its story, heightening the risk, unease and fear. It’s a very strong style, it’s confident and forthright, it knows what it’s going for and that’s exactly what it achieves. The cinematography is sharp, it never loses the atmosphere of a drama, keeping its feet firmly on the ground, textured yet intimate.

Moraru’s writing definitely captures the intensity, vulnerability and fear of the story well and it moves at a satisfying pace but its main issue is that by the end, it doesn’t feel like it’s explored everything it needed to. It touches upon Cristi’s current relationship and his past causes the film’s main plot but the real consequences both physical and emotional don’t get any time to play out. It cuts some of the sharpness and impact that the story builds by not allowing a vital element to be explored. Otherwise, it’s a gripping story and a relevant look into society’s relationship with queer persons in different parts of the world, it’s hard to ignore there are many whose minds are still entirely closed on the subject.

Mericoffer’s performance as Cristi is the heart and soul of this film, everything rests upon his shoulders and he holds the weight like a feather. He brings through that marked intensity and closeted persona through easily, you can see the fear in his wild eyes, the anxiety and aggression is palpable. It’s deeply focused on his character so not everyone else really gets much of a chance to be involved, even if they all do have a part to play. However, the one key exception to that is Alexandru Potocean’s Mircea, providing a thoughtful, sensitive and understanding counterpart to Cristi in the police. The friendship that they have is sweet, the way that Mircea is able to calm Cristi and attempts to aid him in his conflict is moving.

Poppy Field is powerful and intense viewing but its story proves ultimately less satisfying than expected. Jebeleanu’s direction mixed with Marius Panduru’s cinematography and an impactful lead performance from Mericoffer make for a perfectly uncomfortable film, it’s pleasurably claustrophobic. There was undoubtedly more to be said on Romania’s relationship and attitude towards homosexuality but it’s a memorable film regardless.

Verdict: ✯✯✯

Reviewed as part of BFI Flare

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