Whilst political discourse on the AIDS crisis is still lacking, artists are forging the way in refocusing the narratives around how people who died from the virus were treated and the social stigma that they faced. Unusually, one of the more formidable works of recent times comes in the form of a new Polish gay thriller, ‘Operation Hyacinth’, released this week on Netflix.
The film takes its name directly from a secret Polish police operation carried out between 1985 and 1987, whereby police attempted to document gay men throughout the country.
The operation was conducted by way of a public health mandate. Official propaganda in support of the action declared that new fears over HIV regarded homosexuals as a high-risk group.
The resulting dossier is believed to have become a way for the communist police to blackmail and abuse homosexual men within the State, causing many to leave the country.
The gay thriller revolves around the fictional character of Robert, played by Tomasz Zietek, a newly appointed police detective, trying to make a name for himself. During a raid on a public toilet, Robert meets Arek (Hubert Milkowski), a gay student.
Instead of arresting Arek, Robert decides to use him as an informant. Following the stabbing to death of another gay man in a local park, Robert’s superiors beat a confession out of a third man, leading Robert to question the validity of the investigation.
Robert’s own investigation forces him to get closer to Arek, leading him to question his own sexuality and face the ramifications of his decisions.
The film shrewdly conveys the gritty reality of Soviet Poland through its brown and grey tones. The sharp use of mirrors and reflections act as strong metaphors for Robert’s latent homosexuality, whilst also inferring the ever-present trope of the ‘big brother’ spying State.
Coupled with a strong plot, Zietek delivers a convincing performance to realise a truly sinister spy thriller. ‘Operation Hyacinth’ delivers a welcome alternative in capturing the fears and traumas around the AIDS crisis without overtly addressing the disease itself.
‘Operation Hyacinth’ is available to stream on Netflix now.
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