Operation Hyacinth 2021 film poster

Operation Hyacinth (Hiacynt) Film Review

Why I took it off the list:

After reviewing German prison-set drama Great Freedom, I decided to check another queer thriller off my list to coincide with Pride Month.

And this film that tackles a dark chapter of LGTBQ history seemed like a good fit: a story surrounding the events of Poland’s Operation Hyacinth in the 1980s.

I hadn’t heard of this operation before researching what the film was about. But it turns out to have been a Polish communist police practice of registering all known homosexuals and those associated with them, and forcing them to sign a declaration of their sexuality. In theory, this was done to root out criminality in the gay community but led to widespread surveillance, harassment, and discrimination.

Curious as to what a dramatization of this story would look like, I decided to check the film out. So, let’s dig in!

Review of Operation Hyacinth (2021)

Operation Hyacinth dedicates a full half hour to the macho posturing of the Polish communist police as they detain and harass suspected homosexuals and get them to try to confess to a crime—a murder linked to a gay prostitution ring.

This is uncomfortable viewing, but we get a bit of relief through the eyes of young rookie cop Robert (Tomasz Zietek). Still green in the force and idealistic, he’s not fully on board with the practice of framing those that happen to be on the so-called ‘pink list’.

This leads him to begin his own sort of undercover investigation, and he befriends student Arek after they escape a bust together while he’s scoping out a local cruising spot. Using Arek as an unsuspecting informant , he manages to insert himself into the underground gay community – but finds himself becoming unexpectedly attached to the young man.

His position is complicated by the fact that he’s engaged to be married to a fellow militia officer Also, his own father happens to be the bullheaded commissioner who wants the case closed quickly. No matter which queer they have to frame for it.

However, his growing attachment to Arek seems to stir up some unexplored feelings in him, and he begins to question his place in this corrupt and unjust system.

An Atmospheric, Effective Thriller

In the end, the narrative of Operation Hyacinth is a pretty standard story of an idealistic non-conformist going up against a corrupt system, but the setting and backdrop make it a fascinating watch.

The obvious parallel is William Freidkin’s Cruising (1980), but Operation Hyacinth is even more daring as it fully allows for the possibility of the cop actually falling in love with one of his targets. And all the messy complications that implies.

Plus, the film completely nails the 80s soviet vibe in its cinematography, all nicotine-stained hues (true to the time, the main characters are CONSTANTLY smoking!). The sets and well-chosen locations all also look commendably 80s, dingy, and lived-in.

It’s also quite effective as a thriller, with 2 standout tension-filled scenes involving 2-way mirrors that stick in the mind.

It all culminates in a fairly conventional, action movie-style showdown with an assassin. But it’s one that’s satisfying because of the striking setting and impassioned performances from the lead actors.

The final moments are ambiguous, and we don’t get many clues to the fates of the characters. There’s simply an ominous title card that informs us that the ‘pink files’ collected as part of Operation Hyacinth were used to harass those identified for years.

Final Score: 8/10

Operation Hyacinth (2021): Worth Watching?

Yes, Operation Hyacinth is an effective thriller that’s moody and atmospheric, and it manages to touch on and illuminate a dark chapter in queer history.

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