by Warren Curry
“Police, Adjective” is a Romanian “New Wave” take on a police drama, meaning, in a nutshell, the emphasis is on realism rather than plot mechanics, the camera doesn’t move much, action is kept to a bare minimum and the tone is on the frigid side. Needless to say, this movie is for fairly specific tastes, and as one who was thoroughly blown away by 2006’s much lauded Romanian film “4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days,” I was optimistic that my appreciation level of the movie would be high. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
Corneliu Porumboiu’s (”12:08 East of Bucharest”) second feature is an unquestionably thoughtful film, but that quality alone doesn’t make it an engaging one. In terms of technique, this movie shares commonalities with the aforementioned “4 Months…,” but whereas that film’s quiet intensity was relentless enough to reach a full boil, the pace of Porumboiu’s latest is so deadened that it feels like it’s explicitly trying to tax viewer’s patience. And on that count it succeeds with flying colors.
Newlywed policeman Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is assigned the task of tracking a teenager who smokes hashish with some school friends. Cristi doesn’t feel the young man’s actions are tantamount to criminal behavior and thus believes an arrest is unwarranted. The policeman claims to have a conscience and his “progressive” way of thinking runs counter to his fellow officers who, like Romania as a whole (as the film indicates), are damagingly stuck in the past.
When Cristi’s captain (Vlad Ivanov from “4 Months…”) orders him to lead a sting operation to apprehend the kid, he refuses, claiming that his conscience won’t allow it. This leads to a deadpan exchange that finds Cristi looking up the dictionary definition of the word conscience at his captain’s request, which serves as both the film’s climax and, by far, its most interesting scene. If nothing else, Porumboiu saves the best for last.
The film primarily serves as a vehicle for the writer/director’s commentary about his stagnant home country. This criticism occasionally takes the form of deadpan comedy, which ever so slightly livens up the proceedings, but for the most part Porumboiu’s rigorously static visual scheme makes the film feel as if it’s being held down with a 100-pound weight. This is clearly the work of an intelligent, sincere filmmaker, however, his attempt to capture such unvarnished reality has the unfortunate side effect of making it seem like he’s preoccupied with the utmost minutiae of daily life. There’s just not much to be gained from watching the protagonist slowly, silently eat a bowl of soup.
To his credit, it’s evident from the first frame Porumboiu is in complete control of his film and never once does the movie deviate from the filmmaker’s rigid aesthetic. The director certainly has a firm handle on his craft, but in this case that tight grip, more than anything else, essentially chokes the life out of the movie. “Police, Adjective” is certainly a well-made movie…and some viewers may need to keep reminding themselves of that as they try to summon the stamina to make it through a long (nearly) two hours.
POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Romania/2009)
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Ion Stocia, Irina Saulescu
Not Rated, 113 minutes
(IFC Films; opens in limited release on December 23, 2009)