BFI Flare Review: Poppy Field

DIRECTED BY

Eugen Jebeleanu

STARRING

Conrad Mericoffer, Alexandru Potocean, Radouan Leflahi, Cendana Trifan, Ionuț Niculae, Alex Călin, Rolando Matsangos, George Pistereanu, Ela Ionescu, Mihaela Sîrbu, Valentina Zaharia, Denis Hanganu, Ruxandra Maniu and Lucian Ifrim

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SYNOPSIS

Based on a true story, Eugen Jebeleanu’s probing Bucharest-set drama weighs up the professional demands on a closeted police officer when his work clashes with his personal life.

As Cristi’s lover is visiting from Paris, a religious group of homophobic protestors interrupt the screening of a gay film festival which places Cristi in an unbearable predicament, trapped by a combination of threats from protestors, his colleagues and ex-lover.

Poppy Field (aka Câmp de maci) is drama from Romania is based on the true story of of a protest taking place at a film screening in Bucharest. The film marks the screenwriting debut of Ioana Moraru and is directed by Eugen Jebeleanu, making his directorial debut. Set in Burcharest, we follow Cristi who is a gay man working as a police officer. While his reunion with his lover Hadi, who is visiting from Paris, is passionate, his job as a police officer is proving increasingly problematic, as he’s determined to maintain a straight facade amongst his colleagues. One night however they’re called to a film screening as a religious group of homophobic protestors disrupt a film as part of a gay film festival, leading to Cristi reaching a crisis point in front of his colleagues when a former lover tries to engage him in conversation.

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When we initially see Cristi and Hadi together, they wait until they’re completely alone, the lift/elevator in this case, for them to share a passionate kiss, but as they move into the apartment, there’s an awkward atmosphere in the air. Hadi is upset that Cristi won’t go away with him for the weekend somewhere out of the city, with Cristi professing that it’s complicated. When Cristi’s sister Catalina arrives however, the atmosphere gets more awkward and tense, as she tries to spark a genuine conversation with Hadi about himself and what their plans are together. We soon learn that Catalina is prying for information however, hence Cristi’s stoic, dismissive behaviour, as she was curious to learn more about ‘this phase’ that he’s going through. This kind of attitude lingers over the film like a dark fog as Cristi tries to keep his homosexuality a secret from his fellow colleagues. It’s during their arrival at the protest in the cinema however that tension is heightened when one of those at the screening happens to be an ex-lover of Cristi’s, leading to a sense of paranoia that hangs over the second-half of the film.

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There’s some pretty good direction from Jebeleanu here, with one long-shot in particular being a highlight as we pan across the hallway/reception area of the building with the two groups continuing to argue outside of the screening and the police are, to put it mildly, not doing a good job of de-escalating the situation. The issue I had with the film however is that it builds and builds this tension over whether Cristi’s secret will come out amongst his colleagues, yet it feels like the film hits the breaks for too long in the final third and the overall resolution made me feel underwhelmed in the end. Conrad Mericoffer does give a really good lead performance as Cristi, he conveys a lot through his expressions, especially in the second half of the film.

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VERDICT

An interesting directorial debut from Jebeleanu with a really good performance from Mericoffer, Poppy Field did lose momentum for me towards the end and felt like it ended prematurely.

★★