Poppy Field is now showing at BFI Flare; book tickets here
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 worldwide. 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, watching the drama unfold? In many respects, we have become complacent about the critical and urgent role cinema still plays in representation and equality – our understanding of a film’s potential power dampened by a society where we are free from the fear of oppression.
Several months after I had watched 120 BPM, I found myself reminded of my own complacency as I scrolled through the news. As I worked my way through the online news site, I quickly reached an article that talked about a screening of the film in Romania. The screening in question had been invaded by a group of people carrying religious placards while chanting homophobic slurs – the cinema at Bucharest Romanian Peasant Museum transformed from a place of art and discussion to a centre of fear. These events are, of course, not unique to Romania. In fact, across our world, LGBTQ+ movies still find themselves blocked or banned. Recent protests outside a screening of And Then We Danced in Georgia only highlighted this ongoing oppression of artistic freedom.
These events only further remind us of the importance and power of cinema in challenging inequality, fear and discrimination. In Bucharest and Georgia, protests led to a renewed sense of fear, oppression, and isolation among LGBTQ+ individuals and communities, many of whom were already hidden from view.
In Poppy Field, director Eugen Jebeleanu takes his inspiration from the 120 BPM protest weaving reality with fiction through the story of a police officer, Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer), who is fighting his internal and external identity. Here Cristi’s private and public persona is challenged as his unit attends a volatile anti-LGBTQ+ protest at a local cinema, and his secretive gay life with his boyfriend Hadi (Radouan Leflahi) is threatened. As the protests take hold, Cristi finds his sexual orientation challenged by an audience member who recognises him from a previous sexual encounter as events slowly spiral out of control in a toxic environment of internal and external homophobia.
Jebeleanu never allows the events at play in Poppy Field to find an easy or straightforward conclusion as he explores the creation of public and private personas and the internal damage they create. Here, Cristi is caught between two opposing worlds; one built on pre-defined masculine stereotypes, the other on love, his internalised fears creating a split identity rooted in toxicity and homophobia. Many may take umbrage at the film’s ultimate lack of any resolution—their desire for a defined conclusion dismissing the importance of the themes raised. But it’s the lack of a firm conclusion that makes Poppy Field all the more engaging and compelling.
Poppy Field is a stark and urgent reminder of the journey still underway for LGBTQ+ communities across many Eastern European countries. In many of these countries, the interface between culture and religion continues to define the LGBTQ+ experience, locking people into hidden worlds of love. Poppy Field bravely and boldly faces these issues head-on, asking us searching questions about the interface between homophobia, masculinity and culture, and it deserves protest-free screenings in its home country.