Police, Adjective (Romania; 115 min.)

directed by:Corneliu Porumboiu
starring:Dragos Bucur; Ion Stoicar Radu Costinr Irina Saulescur Vlad Ivanov
Politist, adj.

Bruce says: "POLICE, ADJECTIVE is Corneliu Porumboiu’s follow-up film to his 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, winner of the Chlotrudis Buried Treasure Award in 2008.  Most of us know that police work is not as glamorous or exciting as many films would have us believe.    In this film Porunboiu wrings the adventure out of a police procedural, turning it into a didactic exercise which trumps common sense and emotion.  Porumboiu describes POLICE, ADJECTIVE as a film about words. 

"Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a police detective assigned to a drug case.  For weeks he has been stalking some teenagers who are suspected of being cogs in a drug ring.  For better or worse, the viewer is allowed to go on his daily stakeouts which involve interminable periods where nothing is going.  The most exciting moments of Cristi’s day are when two or three of the youths smoke a joint in the schoolyard. 

"Cirsti is building his case, not the case his superiors expected him to build.  'Nowhere in Europe is smoking a joint a criminal offense,' he tells his boss.  Cristi may be forward looking when it comes to Romanian parity in the European Union, however his boss is focused only on getting Cristi to go ahead with a sting operation.  Cristi maintains the police are without enough evidence for a sting operation.  That fact doesn’t hold water with his higher-ups.  The boredom and futility of his work is taking its toll on Cristi’s marriage.  He is irritable at home. His wife is clueless because Cristi claims he can’t talk about his cases at home. 

"Three quarters of the way through the film the big confrontation occurs. In an American film this would imply harsh language, thinly veiled threats and perhaps fisticuffs.  Not so in Romania.   Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov), big boss, finally calls Cristi to task.  Cristi tells Anghelache that he could not continue the case in good conscience.  When Anghelache asks Cristi to define 'conscience,' his fumbling response is called inadequate.  Anghelache asks around for a dictionary.  The secretary finally finds one and Cristi is given the assignment to look up the word.   One word leads to another.   Anghelache tells Cristi to take what he reads literally and apply those definitions to his job and specifically his assignment.   This interchange has a profound effect on Cristi’s job performance.   For the viewer it comes as a surprise that such a droll scene could be so thought provoking. 

"Winner of the 2009 top prize for films eligible in Cannes’ second tier category, Un Certain Regard, POLICE, ADECTIVE is another addition to the amazing portfolio of accomplished Romanian films emerging within in the past decade.    4 1/2 cats  

"(POLICE, ADJECTIVE screened at the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival.)"


Jason says: "The title of POLICE, ADJECTIVE comes from a scene almost at the end of the movie, and based upon the definitions read out in that scene, it's interesting that the film was not named POLICE, NOUN or POLICE, VERB, at least if one is into self-referentiality.  The first description of the world 'police' as an adjective refers to a type of movie, and while this one technically fits the category, it tends to focus on different aspects of police-work than the typical procedural.

"Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a young detective in a smallish Romanian city. He is currently assigned to tail Victor (Radu Costin), a high-school student whose smokes a bit of hash with a couple of friends, one of whom - Alex (Alexandru Sabadac) - has ratted him out to the police, saying Victor's brother supplies him.  Cristi has been following Victor for a week, and though he figures that they technically have enough to bust the kid for distribution, he doesn't want to move in with a sting just yet:  It doesn't net him the brother they figure is the real dealer, there's something off about why Alex would squeal, and, besides, why bother when no other country in Europe prosecutes for this anyway?

"While most procedurals involve surveillance and stake-outs to some extent, they tend to focus on the moment when something is about to happen, or play up the stultifying boredom of it by showing time passing.  Writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu takes a different tack here, giving us many scenes of Cristi taking up a spot in the background while the teenagers do their thing, then wordlessly following as he trails them.  Proumboiu and cinematographer Marius Panduru frame things carefully, almost exquisitely, to keep the tail on one side of the screen while the person being followed is at the other edge.  We pick out tradecraft without being told - how Cristi tries to keep another person between himself and his target, or how to allay suspicion when a third party starts noticing that he's hanging around.  It's an intriguing combination of interesting and tedious, and even though the we aren't given the message directly, we start to notice how just how much time and resources are being spent on this one kid.

"Despite the precision present in how Porumboiu presents his police-work, in many ways it is the other half of the title that he is truly concerned with.  Not adjectives specifically, but language.  The above-mentioned scene between Cristi and his boss (Vlad Ivanov) is, in some ways, the culmination of others where characters ask each other to speak plainly, or Cristi and his wife Anca (Irina Saulescu) debating the meaning to a song's lyrics.  There's another scene between them where she points out that out that the grammar in his report is out of date, that what had been two words was now supposed to be one, according to the Romanian Academy.  So when all is said and done, we've got the curious idea that laws are made out of language, but language itself can change for political reasons.

"That's something to chew on, although even without the way the dialogue occasionally goes into oddly formal territory, it's interesting to watch these debates play out on the face of Bucur's Cristi.  Bucur doesn't feel the need to do much to ingratiate Cristi with the audience, allowing the character to come off as fussy or demanding.  There's the constant implication that Cristi is smart, but in a bit over his head, and even if the audience doesn't always quite warm to the man, we can find ourselves empathizing with him about his questions, even as we sometimes have trouble deciding whether they are emotional or intellectual.  He's given good characters to play against, too - Irina Saulescu manages both intellectualism and warmth as Cristi's wife, while Ion Stoica is a simple presence as the fellow officer he shares an office with.  And while I believe that Ivanov only has that one scene, it's a big, meaty one that he absolutely dominates.

"I notice, upon re-reading what I wrote about 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, Porumboiu's previous film, that it too was built around one big scene, staged in a fairly similar way:  What amounts to a long-held shot of three men involved in a relatively formal discussion.  It's a format that works for him, apparently, although I think it works better here because the scenes leading up to it are much more focused - there can be no doubt that this is Cristi's story - and it leads directly to a conclusion.  Indeed, what could be a stiff, purely intellectual story winds up somewhat fascinating by how well Porumboiu and Bucur put us in Cristi's shoes.

"It still winds up being rather on the formal side; those looking for a conventional crime movie will likely be disappointed.  It offers plenty of food for thought for those with a fair amount of patience, though, whether it be ethical or intellectual. 4 cats

"Seen 28 January 2010 at Landmark Kendall Square #5 (first-run)"