Operation Hyacinth is a gritty mystery with a smart script inspired by Poland’s shameful 1980s treatment of the LGBTQ+ community.
This review of the Netflix film Operation Hyacinth does not contain spoilers.
The polish Netflix film, Operation Hyacinth, is inspired by the true story of the operation that documented over 11,000 citizens. A secret operation run by the Polish communist police, whose original “intent” was to combat HIV and the criminal act of prostitution. Think of it as McCarthyism — each member of the polish LGBTQ+ community that’s registered turns another one.
Operation Hyacinth tells the story of an officer named Robert (Tomasz Zietek), an idealistic young detective in charge of investigating a string of murders by a serial killer targeting male members of the LGBTQ+ community. His partner Wojtek (Tomasz Schuchardt) rules with an iron fist (and foot, for that matter) when dealing with the “gay” problem, while Robert does his policing with a bleeding heart.
He is about to be married to a fellow militia officer, Halinka (Adrianna Chlebicka). She’s young, beautiful, and does not necessarily share his romanticism for human rights. Meanwhile, his father, Edward (Marek Kalita), is busy carving out a path for him on his way to be in an office with the secret police.
Things take a turn when they frame a gay man for the murders. This doesn’t sit well with Robert, who finds himself investigating the murder after it’s closed. His headfirst dive down the rabbit hole of the secret LGBTQ+ Polish community and the “pink files” that keep tabs on them leads him to Arek, who knows more than he lets on.
Operation Hyacinth is inspired by these events and uses the old trope when a police officer cannot let a case go. If you have watched any police procedural, we know that this will end with Robert’s indignation being validated or squashed swiftly. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing if handled correctly. Director Piotr Domalewsk creates a dark and ominous atmospheric view of the intolerant 1980s communist Poland. Much of that can be attributed to the gritty cinematography by Piotr Sobocinski, Jr, son of the great Piotr Sobocinski. The director of photography behind the stunning Three Colours: Red. The cold, winter streets of Warsaw have never looked so desolate.
There’s a grit to Marcin Ciaston’s layered script. It’s the way the narrative pulls Robert into a world that has freed him of his oppression that’s liberating. It’s a terrific performance by Tomasz Zietek. You watch the facade slowly break as he starts to question and ponder his sexuality. It evokes comparisons to Robert Altman’s Homicide in the way Joe Mantegna’s Detective Bobby Gold begins to embrace his heritage and investigate the world of antisemitism.
Operation Hyacinth is a gritty mystery with deeper themes than most of its genre. Sure, it has the classic cliche of a cop risking his career to catch the bad guy. That’s nothing new since The French Connection. But that doesn’t mean Domalewsk’s film is tired. It’s a genre film with added weight and a smart script that stands out above the rest.
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