The Movie Waffler Glasgow Film Festival 2021 Review - POPPY FIELD | The Movie Waffler

Glasgow Film Festival 2021 Review - POPPY FIELD

poppy field review
A closeted gendarme's attempts to hide his sexuality are threatened during a fracas at an arthouse cinema.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Eugen Jebeleanu

Starring: Conrad Mericoffer, Alexandru Potocean, Radouan Leflahi, Cendana Trifan

poppy field poster

I had never heard of a cinema auditorium being described as a "Poppy Field" before watching Romanian director Eugen Jebeleanu's film of the same name, but seeing all those rows of red seats in a wide shot halfway through the film made me realise what a delightful metaphor it is. For many of us, a cinema is a sanctuary, a place to escape our troubles for the accumulative run time of a movie, some trailers and a bunch of commercials. For queer communities, arthouse cinemas have long functioned as a more literal sanctuary. In Poppy Field, however, an arthouse cinema proves just the opposite for its gay protagonist.

Closeted gendarme Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) welcomes his visiting French lover Hadi (Radouan Leflahi) to Bucharest, but rather than taking some time off to make the most of their weekend together, Cristi has kept himself on his work roster. Leaving Hadi alone in his apartment - following an encounter with his nosy sister that seethes with unspoken homophobia and Islamophobia - Cristi joins up with his macho co-workers and heads to a local arthouse cinema, where a screening of a lesbian film has been disrupted by an angry mob of Christian nationalists.

poppy field review

Cristi is immediately uncomfortable, with his colleagues mocking both the protesters and the interrupted audience members. When asked to provide identification, the latter are understandably reluctant to comply, and tensions begin to rise as both the protesters and the cinema-goers accuse the gendarmerie of bias.

Despite trying to keep his head down, Cristi is spotted by a young man who claims to have once dated him, something Cristi angrily denies. Desperate to silence this unwelcome figure from the past, Cristi takes him into the empty auditorium and subjects him to a quick piece of old-fashioned police brutality. Of course, this just escalates an already tense scenario, threatening to expose Cristi's true identity to his colleagues.

poppy field review

The dynamic between Cristi and his fellow gendarmerie is similar to that which fuelled the '60s TV show The Fugitive, in which educated former doctor turned wanted man Richard Kimble found himself forced to live among the working class, some of whom respected and looked up to his knowledgeable ways while many others resented him for his education. Try as he might to fit in, Kimble was always an outsider in a show that subtly denounced America's various prejudices and anti-intellectual streak. Cristi sticks out among his macho mates, though they seem oblivious to his true sexuality, likely because the idea of one of their own being gay is beyond their realm of comprehension. At several points one of Cristi's colleagues will say something like "Don’t worry, your secret's safe with me," and neither Cristi nor the audience is entirely sure which "secret" they're referring to - the secret of his sexuality or the secret of how he beat a young man?

Cristi is so desperate to keep the former secret that it seems he will gladly accept any punishment for his assault. Watching Cristi spout homophobic rhetoric in an attempt to cover his ass I was reminded of how Matthew Modine's Full Metal Jacket protagonist - another intellectual trapped in a dumbed-down, ignorant milieu - dishes out the harshest beating of the bullied whipping boy Private Pyle in order to fit in.

poppy field review

While Cristi's co-workers are clearly ignorant homophobes, Jebeleanu refuses to take the easy route of portraying them as one-note villains. We've all known people who hold reprehensible views - usually because they've simply never questioned them - but who are nevertheless decent people when it comes to one to one interactions. One colleague in particular, Mircea (Alexandru Potocean), acts as something of a big brother to Cristi, and you get the feeling that if anyone is aware of Cristi's sexuality it's this guy. His treatment of Cristi suggests an awareness and sensitivity to something he can't understand and isn't willing to openly discuss.

The gendarmerie of Poppy Field are uniquely bonded in that way that people who spend eight hours a day working side by side and in dangerous scenarios tend to be. If Cristi's secret came out, would their bond prove strong enough for them to accept him? Quite possibly. The true tragedy of Poppy Field is that men like this would rather not face such questions. Anyone who believes "don’t ask, don’t tell" isn't a harmful way to live would do well to watch Jebeleanu's film and see how such a mentality really affects those forced to live under such stifling conditions.

Poppy Field
 plays online at the Glasgow Film Festival from February 27th to March 2nd.

2021 movie reviews