Review: Poppy Field

Here is a clear instance of a feature that would have made a devastating short film, but at 82 minutes is stretched way in excess of its capacities. Eugen Jebeleanu’s film concerns Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer), a closeted member of the Romanian gendarmerie, who’s called in to manage a disruption of a queer film screening by hard-right nationalist homophobes. The scenes in the cinema are conveyed in suffocating sequence shots, following Cristi and his colleagues as they stand guard, survey the incident, and ask everyone involved to cooperate. To make matters worse, he’s clocked by a man in the audience, a former sexual partner; his attempt to resolve the situation is disastrous. The film fits perfectly into the schematic outlined by Karl Schoonover and Rosalind Galt in their book Queer Cinema in the World, as Cristi navigates a situation that gestures towards both universal and minoritarian narratives of queerness. This is the purpose of the rushed opening, in which Cristi’s French lover (Radouan Leflahi) comes to visit, who he speaks English with. The intrusion of his at first glance sympathetic sister, whose visit involves a sting in the tail, suggests she believes what the homophobes storming the screening assert more bluntly: that queerness is “un-Romanian.” The film’s more propitious element is in the way it handles the main character’s means of disguise: he falls back onto defensive homophobia himself when pressed; earlier, he joins in with the sexist repartee of his colleagues. In such an environment, in which sexual repression is a quite literal danger, the film shows how homophobia and misogyny go hand in glove. Or at least it does for a moment. It’s but one idea caught up in a series of elongated dialogues, each one less sensible than the last; until the final chat, with Cristi’s most sympathetic colleague, abandons sense altogether. If this were a short, the sequence shots, with their redoubled emphasis on reframing Cristi each time a slur is hurled, would be more than enough to work out the dynamics of his position—but considering how the film is bookended, the intensity of this passage unbalances Mericoffer’s resources as an actor; add to that the coded nature of the language his colleagues use, and the whole set-up becomes overemphatic—stifling the film’s rhythms and reducing it to a single, rather expressively cruel, note. 

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