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'Police, Adjective'
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu (2009)
Howard Schumann (howard16)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2009-11-02 11:08 (KST)   
Like Bruno Dumont's epic police procedural "L'Humanite", Police, Adjective is a film of mood, silence, and soul. Winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, the second feature by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu is a follow-up to his black comedy "12:08 East of Bucharest" which won the Camera D'Or at Cannes in 2006. "Police, Adjective" is about a taciturn, plain-clothed police officer who developed a conscience over making an arrest, an unusual occurrence in the bureaucratic, post-Communist society of Romania where the law is rigidly enforced regardless of its logic. Like Phaaron of "L'Humanite", Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is an unlikely cop, an unglamorous member of the working class who wears the same sweater four days in a row and goes about his job in a mechanical and emotionally inexpressive manner.

Shown at the Vancouver Film Festival, "Police, Adjective" is set in the director's hometown of Vaslui in northeastern Romania, a venue that looks unbearably bleak. The general atmosphere is one of decay with paint inside the houses peeling and chipped, lockers rusted, and mailboxes broken. There are no camera tricks here, only long takes delivered from a horizontal pan, and the cinematography deliberately enhances the tedium. Porumboiu devotes long stretches of the film watching Cristi simply going about his routine. On orders from his superior, Nelu (Ion Stoica), he follows Alex (Alexandru Sabadac), a teenager at the local high school who is suspected of buying hash and selling it to his fellow students, shadowing the boy daily from home to school in hopes of finding out the source of the drugs.

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In the course of his investigation, however, Cristi realizes that Alex is just a kid who occasionally smokes pot with some of his pals and is not a threat to society. Taking detailed notes, Cristi avoids meeting with his boss, waiting to find out the source of the hash before making a move, knowing that arresting a sixteen year old boy for smoking will mean a prison term of at least three years and possibly seven. Finally, when he is ordered to make a full report and take action, Cristi refuses to follow orders from the Police Captain, citing his conscience and the fact that the law will soon be repealed. Like Phaaron of L'Humanite, Cristi is willing to remain faithful to what he believes in but his feelings are ignored by those in a position of power.

In a memorable sequence, Cristi's boss, Captain Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov) brings in a Romanian dictionary and asks him to look up the meaning of the words "conscience", "law", "moral", and "police", attempting to show him that as a police officer he must obey the letter of the law, not impose his own morality on the situation. The scene is cold, efficient, and persuasive but it is obvious that the law he is asked to follow is based more on semantics than on morality. While most of the first half of the film is filled with uneventful surveillance, a scene at home between Cristi and his wife Anca (Irina Saulescu) adds some humor to the dour proceedings. Husband and wife discuss the meaning of the lyrics of a popular song that Anca is playing over and over again, Cristi giving the words a literal meaning which make little sense, while his wife ascribes to them their proper symbolic and poetic meaning.

"Police, Adjective" provides a welcome dose of conscience to a genre that has been buried in technology and filled with violence, car chases, and ugliness, a genre that has dealt only with methods rather than with consequences. While the film is austere and requires a great deal of patience, with little dialogue and no musical score, Porumboiu forces us to relate to the characters by observing their eyes, their physical movements, and their facial expressions. He expects us not only to see but to think about what we are seeing and, in the process, to bring us face to face with what makes us truly human.

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This article has not appeared in any other news medium but has been submitted to Cinescene (www.cinescene.com)
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Howard Schumann

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