Potatoes, Radios and Poppies. Films reviewed: Potato Dreams of America, How to Fix Radios, Poppy Field #InsideOut!

Posted in Bullying, Canada, Christianity, Coming of Age, Conservatism, Corruption, LGBT, Police, Queer, Romania, Slackers, USSR, Vladivostok by CulturalMining.com on May 28, 2021

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT film festival, kicked off last night, and is open for digital viewing across Ontario. It has movies, docs and shorts from around the world, many showing here for the first time.

This week I’m looking at three of these new movies two of which are directors’ first features. There’s a “little potato” in Russia, a broken radio in Canada, and a field of poppies in Romania.

Potato Dreams of America

Wri/Dir: Wes Hurley

Little Potato (Hersh Powers) is a school kid in 1980s Vladivostok, in the USSR a land of Perestroila and Glasnost. But he can’t stand communism, he puts all his faith in Jesus and wants to go to America, where it’s just like the movies and everyone has coloured TV. So he is overjoyed when his devoted and progressive mom, a prison doctor becomes a mail-order bride and takes him with her to Seattle. He likes his new school and stepdad, and is thrilled to see the relative openness toward gay people. But the teenaged potato (Tyler Bocock) wants to assimilate and doesn’t American attitudes. And when his step father’s Christianity turns out to be  steeped in homophobia he’s afraid they’ll both be on the next plane back to Russia. Will Potato’s dreams be ruined?

Potato Dreams of America is a highly stylized, theatrical and campy version of the real  memoirs of Russian American director Wes Hurley. And it’s full of surprises. I’m only allowed a capsule review here, but let me just say, if you like to watch a view of gay life in Russia and America, with lots of homoerotic details, occasional two-dimensional sets, and characters who burst into song, you’ll love this one.

How to Fix Radios

Dir: Casper Leonard, Emily Russell

It’s summer in a rural town town in Ontario. Evan (James Rudden) has found a summer job — cleaning up the land around a ramshackle hut before acomes in and clears it all away. He’s a quiet loner, a high school student who lives with his dad in an isolated home ad dresses in basic clothes: Shorts, T-shirt and ball cap. So he’s taken aback when he meets his supervisor. Ross (Dimitri Watson) is his opposite: a combative angry attitude, dressed in overalls, with bright pink hair, black fingernail polish and a pierced septum. He’s here, he’s queer and he doesn’t care who knows it. Evan has never seen anyone like him, but they gradually become friends. They meet up with Ross’s sister to go on picnics, and retreats to an abandoned house by a lake that everyone uses. And there they share intimate secrets by the campfire. 

But things are complicated. 

Small towns have gay people but they also have bullies. Ross is constantly tormented by a thug named Jake who rides around on his three wheeled RV, smoking pot and drinking beer with his chowderhead friends.  Problem is, he’s also the son of their employer who owns the land they’re cleaning up and pays their salaries. Why don’t you move to the city, Evan wonders. Because, Ross says, he likes the quiet and trees there, and the nature all around him. And he doesn’t want a moron like Jake determining what he does with his life. But how much longer can Ross endure the punches and taunts from Jake?

How to Fix Radios (the title refers to one of Evan’s skills) is a warm look at friendship and the life of a queer kid in small-town Ontario. It’s an ultra-low-budget, indie film shot last summer during COVID, with all the spacing and location rules that entailed, which may explain why the sound quality is dodgy (some lines are lost or else overpowered by background noise.)  But  the great music, beautiful images and engaging characters make it a treat to watch. 

Poppy Field

Dir: Eugen Jebeleanu

It’s present-day Romania. Cristi (Conrad Mericoffer) is a member of the Gendarmerie, an elite  national police force run military style, using tightly-knit squads. They’re called in to handle dangerous riots and criminal acts. But tonight they’re at a movie theatre. How come? A lesbian drama, sponsored by an LGBT group, is scheduled to play that night. But the theatre has been occupied by a group of right-wing Christian activists. Draped in Romanian flags and carrying icons of the Virgin Mary, they say they’re trying to stop the pornographic “Homosexual Mafia”. The people in the audience say they just want to watch a movie. The tension is rising, but for some reason, Christi, unlike the other gendarmes, is standing far back, doing nothing. What is bothering him? But when he is confronted by a gay man, he loses it and beats the man up. This outs his whole squad in potential trouble. Why did he do it? Christi is gay too, but doesn’t want the other cops to know. He even has a Parisian lover waiting to meet him tonight in his apartment. Has Christi’s secret been revealed? Will he lose his job? And can he face his inner demons?

Poppy Field (and I have to admit, I have no idea what the title means) is a realistic and tense drama about a gay Romanian cop being pushed to the brink by his two separate lives: a passionate personal life and a rigid and violent workplace.  The film is divided in the same way: part one is a night with him and his lover Hadi, and part two is a day at work. This is an excellent movie — a first feature but done in the style of current Romanian cinema: hyper realistic, done in real time, dealing with social issues. If you’ve ever seen contemporary Romanian movies like Police: Adjective, you’ll immediately recognize the style. Director Jebeleanu uses the fantastic veteran cinematographer Marius Panduru gives it his distinctive, minimalist look. Mericoffer, as Christi, rarely speaks, but you can see the angst brewing beneath his stone-cold features.

Short, sharp and fast-moving, Poppy Field is a great art house pic.

Potato Dreams of America, How to Fix Radios, and Poppy Field are all playing  now at Inside Out, Toronto’s LGBT Film Festival.

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies, each Friday morning, on CIUT 89.5 FM and on my website, culturalmining.com

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