‘Poppy Field’ — Censoring Queerness In Romania: BFI Flare Review

poppy field bfi flare review

In Poppy Field, the philosophy of art blends with the sad reality of our current political landscape, where there is still an attempt to silence and censor queer art and expression in seemingly liberal European countries. 

When Levan Akin’s film And Then We Danced was released in 2019, ultra-conservative groups raided screenings of the film throughout Georgia to protest the feature’s homosexual narrative. There are unmissable parallels between the events in Georgia and the ones seen in Eugen Jebeleanu’s Poppy Field, a film set during a protest at a screening of a lesbian film.

Based on true events that transpired in Romina’s capital of Bucharest, Poppy Field follows a day in the life of a closeted Romanian gendarme officer, Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer), who spends the morning passionately reuniting with his French lover Hadi (Radouan Leflahi) and the evening defending homophobic protests that broke out in a local cinema. 

Poppy Field is separated into two main movements: day and night. During the day, Cristi is safe in his home, in the arms of his lover. At night, he is on edge, fearful of his true self being seen by those in the real world. Like other LGBTQ+ films, he must find a balance between freely living his truth and living within an intolerant society. 

Yet Jebeleanu subverts these themes and presents quite a contradiction to the tropes we’re used to seeing in queer films. In this film, the gay man is allowed to express his sexuality in the light of day, while the cover of night poses more of a threat to his secrets. What this reversal represents is perhaps the shift in cultural thinking: the once tabooed nature of homosexuality is accepted in the day, but the rising subculture of alt-right extremism rears its ugly face at night.  

Of course, the film still captures the suffocating and demoralising nature of hiding your sexuality. Even though the day offers beautiful sunlight, there’s still a claustrophobic element to Marius Panduru’s cinematography. Both the night and the day utilise extreme close-ups and hand-held cameras, which brings a sense of anxiety to each scene. But it’s the overwhelming chaos of the night that truly hits home that you’re always being watches, being seen, with your secrets constantly on display.  

Jebeleanu’s film raises important questions about acceptance and tolerance in a world that seems to be progressive. He highlights how toxic masculinity, homophobia and sexual liberation are still contentious issues. The film’s slow pace allows you the opportunity to fully digest the events. You’re able to live within the narrative, feeling as though you are this man. And although much doesn’t happen throughout the film, it’s the subtle, quiet moments that enhance the realism, reminding you that it’s the small, almost insignificant moments that are the most important.  

But it’s Conrad Mericoffer’s superbly nuanced and controlled performance that brings the film to life. You’re unable to look away from him, completely captivated by a performance that borders right on the edge of a man on the brink. Without Mericoffer, the film loses its core, its passion and its momentum. It’s Mericoffer that drives Poppy Field, giving life to an otherwise basic narrative.

The Verdict 

Poppy Field is not a film for everyone. It’s slow paced with little action and narrative. But that’s what makes it beautiful. The filmmaking’s simple and uncomplicated nature makes it a relevant and introspective film that reminds you of the hatred and biases that still plague our society. It’s a film that calmly and precisely remarks on the conservatism that still grips many countries, reminding us how, even in 2021, we still live in a world that wants to censor art and freedom of expression. 

Rating: 6/10

Words by Shelby Cooke

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