Eugen Jebeleanu • Director of Poppy Field
“Poppy Field is a film mainly about love and the impossibility of love”
- We chatted to Eugen Jebeleanu, whose first feature, Poppy Field, has just had its world premiere in the First Feature Competition at Tallinn Black Nights
With considerable experience in opera and theatre under his belt, Romanian director Eugen Jebeleanu switches to film directing with his feature debut, Poppy Field [+see also:
interview: Eugen Jebeleanu
film profile], one of the rare Romanian LGBTQ+ films. Here is what the young director has to say about militant cinema and how his debut feature, screened in the First Feature Competition of Tallinn Black Nights, came to life.
Cineuropa: You are probably Romania’s only openly gay director. How would you comment on the fact that LGBTQ+ films have only recently started being produced in Romania?
Eugen Jebeleanu: I think it’s very good that these films exist, even if they are recent. The international preoccupation about these topics probably led to a new generation of directors and screenwriters becoming more aware of what an LGBT person has to put up with on a daily basis. Moreover, I think that the debates ignited by the referendum [a constitutional referendum from 2018, when Romanians were asked to vote for a change in the constitution so that marriage would be defined explicitly as between a man and a woman] increased awareness of LGBT rights. Even if the battle has not yet been won and we still don’t have legal same-sex partnerships [in Romania], we can still hope that one day, hopefully soon, we won’t have so much hate, discrimination and homophobia in the country.
The screenplay was written by Ioana Moraru; were you involved in the screenwriting process?
When I met Ioana, the first draft was already done, and I really liked its structure, writing and topic. Some characters developed more fully and became more present, but the background, the timing and the major conflict in the story remained the same. After we started rehearsing with the actors, Ioana attended some of these rehearsals and made changes to the screenplay every time she felt a certain situation or relationship between the characters needed tweaking. I didn’t write a single word in the screenplay; it belongs entirely to Ioana. But the dialogue between us was based on listening.
You are an experienced theatre director, and Poppy Field is your first attempt at film directing. Were there any difficulties in switching from one medium to the other?
Thankfully, I had a fantastic production, technical and artistic team. Velvet [Moraru, the producer] offered me a very protective working environment, so I never felt overwhelmed by the scope of the project. From my theatre experience, I wished to bring honesty and the courage to recount relevant things, be they delicate or offensive, but always with a certain tenderness, even when the things being said are serious, violent or brutal. [DoP] Marius Panduru was very attentive while we worked together, and he followed my every thought, proposition and idea with a dedication that is almost dangerous when collaborating with a first-time director. This helped me to trust in both myself and our endeavour. He suggested I shouldn’t change anything from my approach to theatre; he only asked me to always be aware that the audience is replaced by the camera.
Would you like your film to spark a debate in Romania? Or would you ever expect a screening of your film to be interrupted by anti-gay protesters?
Of course I hope for a debate. If a screening of the film were interrupted – a thing I would never want to happen for the exact same reason – it would still be interesting to observe and debate what caused the situation. I think as artists, we need to create controversy and challenge society. We should never fall prey to fear, but we should rather “abuse” the freedom of expression we have on the stage, on screen or in any artistic endeavour. For me, Poppy Field is a film about identity, about the difficulty of being free, about censorship and self-censorship, and mainly about love and the impossibility of love.
Your film does not propose any solutions for its protagonist. Was this the intention from the beginning?
Both Ioana and I wanted the protagonist to be able to “breathe”, to have enough space to live through various situations in the here and now, to let him navigate his own uncertainties and his unease, and to discover himself, without forcing a certain factual fatality upon him. Of course, we asked ourselves many questions about who this man was, where he came from and where he would go, but these questions were not governed by his sexual identity, as this is not the only important aspect in his profile. Cristi is a man like any other, a young man facing personal challenges who finds himself trapped in an extreme situation that he has never experienced before, which destabilises him, affecting his balance in life. For me, it was intriguing trying to discover the effect that the bigger history has on the intimate, personal story of a vulnerable individual, and vice versa.
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