11 October 2010
For a film about linguistic integrity, there are very few verbal exchanges in Police, Adjective. It is a satire so dry that it feels like someone trying to recite “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner” while sucking dried chickpea powder. It is only funny when there is a dialogue - and it is hilarious at that. At other times, it is a true test of one’s patience - think of Gus Van Sant’s recent cinematic wank-offs set in a cold, wet Romanian town.
Corneliu Porumboiu’s previous film, 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) was a comedic gem: it effortlessly blended social realism, political dogma, and a brilliant sense of humour in a humble story. Police, Adjective continues in the same vein, but the political rhetoric is now replaced with a subtle satire of police procedural cinema.
Cristi is a detective in a small Romanian town. He is pressured from above to build a case against 3 weed-smoking teenagers. Torn between his conscience decrying against him arresting a teenager just for smoking, and his duty to the tough Romanian law against drugs, he spends his days following these teenagers in deserted autumn streets, framed with the decrepit high-rises, grim reminders of the Ceausescu era. The idle camera, lengthy shots, and the lack of a soundtrack, make this a quite eerie experience.
Cristi doesn’t do any investigation, other than following these kids around. We find out what he discovers (usually nothing), when his hand-written report is read by him in a voice-over. This is not your usual thriller.
The money shot (or the money sequence) comes in at the finale. After dodging his calls for a few days, Cristi finally meets with his superior. The previous day, he had to pull numerous strings to get a report together. He is still unsure of the veracity of the case, but his captain in a brilliant display of the strength of language, convinces Cristi in an impropmptu sermon on semantics and linguistics by using a dictionary. A single shot scene of brilliant quality - and also one of the funniest scenes of the year. Priceless.
But, what is strikingly original about Police, Adjective (and especially about this particular scene) is the fun it pokes at crime thrillers. The word “police” as adjective refers to a story where the police (noun) solves a crime through his ingenuity and intelligence. Yet, the crime here required neither. The crime was solved, because it had to be solved. The conscience (or ambition) did not play any part. And the procedure itself couldn’t have been more banal or boring.
I don’t think the film wanted to portray a more “realistic” crime thriller, but it certainly shows some of the shortcomings of the genre: it doesn’t make any sense for police to take their jobs personally, they are just upholding the law. And in this particular case, that law may be nonsensical. So, why show all the macho heroism of people who are only performing public service?
All in all, Police, Adjective is a funny, original, and somewhat disturbing film. Adding to the list of the amazing body of films that are coming out of Romania, it is definitely worth your while. How you will feel about some of your favourite films afterwards is a risk worth taking.