Review: 'Câmp De Maci (Poppy Field)' a Slow Burn Study of the Closet's Harmful Effects

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Sunday October 10, 2021

'Câmp De Maci (Poppy Field)'
'Câmp De Maci (Poppy Field)'  

Director Eugen Jebeleanu takes us on a deep dive into the complexities of homophobia and masculinity in the feature "Câmp De Maci (Poppy Field)."

Crisit (Conrad Mericoffer) is a closeted member of the Jandarmeria, Romania's military police force. He's still in the early stages of figuring out his authentic sexuality; his fellow officers make fun of him for never having a girlfriend for very long, while his sister (Cendana Trifan) — who is in the know about Hadi (Radouan Leflahi), the foreign boyfriend Cristi has staying over for a few days — tells him she wanted to meet Hadi in order to see what his "gay phase" was all about.

All of that is hard enough to have to deal with, but then Cristi's six-man squad is called in to restore order at a movie theater that's been disrupted by a group of anti-gay Christians because of a lesbian film. With one side waving slur-filled banners and religious icons, the other side heckling the police for not arresting the trespassers, and both sides hurling profanities at one another, it's about all Cristi's nerves can take. It's at that very moment, of course, that a young man Cristi has hooked up with in the past appears in the agitated crowd and begins to badger him about being a cop in the closet.

Things start to spiral out of control, with Cristi feeling ever more paranoid that his secret is about to spill out... if it hasn't already. The film — already unhurried in pace — slips into a lower gear at this point, lingering at the theater in an almost meta gesture and becoming a slow burn that's so relentless it almost starts to feel like a dark comedy, especially when sympathetic fellow officer Mircea (Alexandru Potocean) shares a story about his own tense home life that involves an angry girlfriend and a stray dog. It's an unmissable moment in a film full of passages that feel on the verge of boiling over.

Fans of Romanian cinema will appreciate Jebeleanu's careful pacing and the way he tightens the screws of anxiety, then slowly — ever so slowly — relaxes them again. American audiences might find the film too slow, and wonder why Hadi's scenes are so few (especially given the movie's poster image, which shows Cristi and Hadi in a clench).

All of which is to say, this isn't a romance; it's a thorough character study that examines how fear and internalized homophobia can scar and compromise a person. But it's also a study in how acceptance — and rejection, also — are not monolithic; they can be as nuanced and complex as anything else in human life.


"Câmp De Maci (Poppy Field)" will screen at NewFest (NYC)

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.