Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Police, Adjective ****

Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Irina Saulescu, Ion Stoica
Marian Ghenea, Cosmin Selesi, George Remes, Alexandru Sabadac

The notions of lawfulness, morality and conscientiousness become the unsolved case at the center of Corneliu Porumboiu's brilliant "Police, Adjective".
Set in a small Romanian town, the film follows Cristi (Bucur) a young police officer whose latest assignment consists of following a teenager (Sabadac) tipped off as a marijuana dealer.
Convinced that the kid is innocent and that it's his dealer who should be incarcerated, Cristi spends time and resources trying to uncover something bigger; for he finds it wrong to cut a teenager's life short for smoking a joint.
"Everybody does it in Prague" he says convinced that Romania too will come to see social drug use as something common. "Maybe attitudes will change a bit but not the law" replies Nelu (Stoica) one of his coworkers .
It is with this kind of remark that director Porumboiu hints at us that his movie won't deal with the usual shenanigans associated with the police genre.
His film takes a turn towards the other kind of procedural drama: the one that deals with intellect, not instinct.
This is confirmed when we start realizing that Cristi's case isn't really going "anywhere". He follows the kid around, watches him do almost the same thing every day and then files a report (which we read in its entire glory) for his superiors.
The day to day of Cristi's job is filled with the dry sense of humor that's become a staple of the Romanian New Wave. We see as Cristi goes from department to department asking for help he sometimes won't get.
"I won't return to those files" establishes a clerk, while another one threatens "if you start that I'll do nothing at all" when Cristi suggests a deadline. It's obvious that there isn't a sense of real duty in the people performing these jobs, or is it perhaps that Cristi is making a big deal of a "lesser" case?
Cristi's sense of importance is concentrated on his thorough reports, perhaps to make up for the fact that not even he likes this job; he fills them with detail containing enough deadpan to hint at his boredom, but also reminding us that this is in fact how most police forces work.
When his literate wife (Saulescu) notices he's made a spelling mistake she corrects him while informing him of the grammatical changes effected by the Romanian Academy.
In another scene they have a cute debate over a pop song: he thinks the elaborate metaphors only hide the banality, she finds the use of symbols and images something brilliant.
Soon Cristi learns that the importance of words is essential in his profession, particularly when the law is subjected to so many grammatical conditions, like when his suspect becomes a "distributor" for sharing his hashish with his friends.
Porumboiu doesn't choose the subtle way and gives us a dialectical lesson using a dictionary in the film's most controversial scene.
When Cristi finally faces Captain Anghelache (the intimidating Ivanov) and is forced to choose between his own moral law and being a police officer.
Some will find the obviousness of the scene an insulting piece of facile didacticism as the director even includes a blackboard while Ivanov's character becomes an elementary school student's worst nightmare and reduces the other adults in the scene to dunces.
Those more willing to follow the movie's sly game will come to realize that this is in fact where the director had been leading us and Cristi all along.
Throughout the first three quarters of the movie we see how this man's world has turned into a cell he carries everywhere. This is hinted visually by always showing him through fences, surrounded by door frames, hallways and even confined by his own pullover.
Cristi's existential battle during most of the film is the equivalent of a prison stay to be solved in the last scene's unofficial sentencing.
"You no longer know what you are, that's your problem" says Captain Anghelache. He might very well be talking about a world where the law and humanity no longer go hand in hand.

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