Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Movie Review: Police Adjective

Police, Adjective ****
Directed By:
Corneliu Porumboiu.
Written By: Corneliu Porumboiu.
Starring: Dragos Bucur (Cristi), Vlad Ivanov (Anghelache), Irina Saulescu (Anca), Ion Stoica (Nelu), Marian Ghenea (Prosecutor), Cosmin Selesi (Costi), George Remes (Vali), Dan Cogalniceanu (Vic), Serban Georgevici (Politist), Alexandru Sabadac (Alex), Anca Diaconu (Doina), Radu Costin (Victor).

Corneliu Porumboiu’s Police Adjective is a film that is likely to bore as many people as it enthralls. It is a police movie without any gun battles or car chases, or really any action of any kind. Instead, it is about a police officer stuck in a moral quandary. The police department has received a tip that a 16 year old kid is a drug dealer. Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is assigned the case, and spends his day following this kid around. He never sees him buy or sell any drugs to or from anyone, but he does see him and two of his friends (one of whom is the informant) go off from time to time and smoke a joint, and when they do, the kid is always the one who has the joint on him. Where are the drugs coming from? It could be the kids older brother, but Cristi cannot be sure. He doesn’t want to bust the kid for doing something he feels is completely harmless, and in a few years could well become legal. If he arrests the kid, and convict him of drug dealing, he’ll go away for seven years, and most likely come out a criminal. If he arrests the kid, and he ends up turning in his brother, Cristi feels the kid will never be able to forgive himself for turning in his brother. Either way, Cristi does not want the arrest on his conscience. His bosses don’t care. What the kid is doing is illegal, and the police do not get to decide what laws they enforce, and which ones they don’t.

Police, Adjective is the latest is a string of films out of Romania, which marks that country as one of the most interesting filmmaking countries in Europe right now. It joins the ranks of such films as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days and The Death of Mr, Lazarescu, along with Porumboiu’s own 12:08 East of Bucharest as films shining a spotlight on Romania, and how things have changed, or not, since the fall of Communism two decades ago. Watching this film, I remembered 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, the excellent movie about the lengths a woman and her friend go to secure an abortion in communist Romania, where even something as seemingly simple as buying a pack of cigarettes is bogged down in red tape, hassles and bureaucracy. Police Adjective, set 20 years later, presents Romania in an almost identical light.

You know those police shows like CSI where all the good guys have to do is request a test, and they have instant results? Well, things couldn’t be more different for Cristi, who has to go from one place to another, seeing one person after another, to get such simple things as background checks and passports checks done – and then he has to wait hours if not days for the results. These scenes are actually kind of funny – and will be funnier still depending on how much bureaucracy you have to deal with in your own job. Cristi cannot seem to anything when he needs it.

Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, Police Adjective is about language itself – what words actually mean. There is a hilarious sequence in the movie where Cristi goes home to his wife, who is listening to some banal pop song over and over again on the computer, and Cristi tries to figure out what the words she is saying means. Does the song have any meaning whatsoever? This scene is mirrored in the film’s climax, which literally sees Cristi reading out of a dictionary. He goes to see his boss (brilliantly played by Vlad Ivanov, who was equally great as the creepiest abortionist in cinema history in 4 Months), and tells him that he cannot arrest the kid because of his conscience. Ivanov gradually breaks Cristi down, word by word, as he has him look up the things he is saying in the dictionary, and explains the difference between what they actually mean, and what Cristi thinks they do. You wouldn’t think this would be a thrilling climax to a movie – but you’d be wrong.

Police Adjective is a dense film, and a slow moving one. Viewers with little patience for this type of film are going to find it painful to sit through. There are long stretches without any dialogue where the camera simply watches Cristi watch the kids, or waits with him as he tries to get into see someone. But all of it is used by Porumboiu to make his points clear. Police Adjective is not a film for everybody – I guess that although Romania picked it for its foreign language entry at this year’s Oscars, the Academy will not nominate it – but for viewers who are interested in this kind of movie, there has not been a better example this year.

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