Poppy Field is now showing at BFI Flare; book tickets here
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Let me start by taking you back to the London Film Festival 2017, where the stunning 120 BPM was about to receive its UK premiere. As I sat in my seat full of expectation, I gave little thought to any barriers the film may face world-wide. I was certainly not alone in this; after all, how many of us truly consider the global obstacles a film may still face due to its story? Do we even consider the impact of a movie on equality worldwide as we sit with our drinks and popcorn? In many respects, we have become complacent of the critical and urgent role cinema still plays in representation and equality. Our understanding of a film’s potential power dampened in a society where movies are free from a fear of oppression.
Several months after watching 120 BPM, I found myself reminded of this complacency as I scrolled through the latest news. A screening of the film in Romania popping up in my feed. The screening in question was invaded by a group of people carrying religious placards, chanting homophobic views. The cinema at Bucharest Romanian Peasant Museum converted from a place of art and discussion to one of fear and anger. The audience both intimidated, furious and concerned that such actions could stop a Cannes prize-winning drama in its tracks. These events are, of course, not unique to Romania. In fact, across our world, LGBTQ+ movies still find themselves blocked, banned or viewed in fear. Recent protests outside a screening of And Then We Danced in Georgia only highlighting this ongoing oppression.
These events remind us of the importance and power of cinema in challenging inequality, fear and discrimination. In Bucharest and Georgia, protests enhanced a sense of fear, oppression, and isolation among LGBTQ+ communities, many already hidden from view. The silencing of film, opinions and storytelling increasing the social isolation of LGBTQ+ people. The result, a culture of repression, secrecy and unchallenged hate.
Director Eugen Jebeleanu takes inspiration from the 120 BPM protest in building his narrative for Poppy Field. Weaving in themes of freedom, art, repression and identity as police officer Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) fights his internal and external identity. His private and public persona challenged as his unit attend a volatile anti-LGBTQ+ protest at a local cinema. The tension between his secretive gay life with boyfriend Hadi (Radouan Leflahi) and his in-uniform image spilling over during a night of suspense. His ability to hide his sexual orientation challenged by an audience member who recognises him from a previous sexual encounter. With events slowly spiralling out of control in a toxic environment of internal and external homophobia.
Jebeleanu never allows the events of Poppy Field to reach an easy or straightforward conclusion. His film exploring the creation of public and private personas; the internal damage they create taking centre stage. Here, Cristi is caught between two opposing worlds; one built on pre-defined masculine stereotypes, the other on love. His internalised fear of both creating a split identity rooted in toxicity and homophobia. The film’s opening scenes as Cristi and Hadi spend a secretive, tense weekend together, foreboding in nature, despite their physical affection and love. The audience allowed inside Cristi’s creation of two opposing worlds, neither providing happiness or personal freedom.
Many reviewers will take umbrage at the films ultimate lack of resolution—their desire for a defined conclusion dismissing the importance of the themes raised. Whereas for me, this lack of ending makes Poppy Field all the more engaging and compelling. The resulting film a stark and urgent reminder of the journey still needed in LGBTQ+ equality across many Eastern European countries. Countries where the interface between culture and religion continue to define individual opportunity and acceptance. In effect, locking many people into opposing worlds of public and private identity. Poppy Field bravely and boldly faces these issues head-on, asking us searching questions about the interface between homophobia, masculinity and culture. In a film that deserves screenings free from any protest in its home country.