Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Movie with Abe: Police, Adjective

Police, Adjective
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Released December 23, 2009

Foreign cinema is intriguing because it provides a window into a different world, a different way of thinking and a different way of fabricating cinema. Precious few foreign films actually make it to the United States, and rarely in the same year as they are originally released in their home countries. Last year, another film from Romania made it over, and it received enormous amounts of undeserved praise for simply showing events as they take place and tackling a disturbing subject matter by merely following people around with a camera and waiting for the plot to occur.

“Police, Adjective,” this year’s official submission from Romania for the Academy Awards, is just as much not in a rush to get anywhere. Entire five-minute sequences feature a character sitting and wolfing down dinner as his wife, off-screen, listens to obnoxious music very loudly. Protagonist Cristi, a cop, tails subjects throughout the day and often stands there for minutes at a time while nothing really happens. There are an infinite number of shots of him walking down the street, following someone, with his hands in his pocket and his face tucked into the top of his jacket to avoid the cold.

Yet there’s a point to it all. Like Michael Haneke’s “Caché,” the emphasis on showing stoic scenes with the same frame covered within them seems designed to provoke closer thought about the picture shown. There are very few characters in the film, and even less dialogue since Cristi is hardly a conversationalist and uses words sparingly, especially in trying to deal with those who talk too much for his liking. He chooses his words carefully, and it’s his obsession with the letter of the law that gets him into trouble.

The plot of “Police, Adjective” doesn’t take long to explain. It’s essentially about Cristi’s prolonging of an assignment so that he can determine for himself if the target everyone else is so eager to arrest is actually guilty of a crime deserving jail time. His investigation is hardly lively and rarely fruitful, but it’s all worth it for one majestic scene that comes near the end of the film and provides the title of the film, where Cristi’s commanding officer forces him to look up definitions in the dictionary to try and break down his moral resolve.

After viewing “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” it was clear that getting an abortion in Romania is not a good idea. But reading and dwelling on the meaning of words like conscience and police is something universal that translates in every language. That contemplation and complex understanding of “Police, Adjective” makes all of its slow, unchanging shots worthwhile and deeply meaningful. The character of Cristi is also a wondrously humorless lead, and it’s his considerable lack of charm that makes his quest to do the right thing even if it goes against the conventional understanding of the law fascinating. This film may not be hemorrhaging glowing reviews like “4 Months,” but it’s a much better movie.



Greg Boyd said...

You gave this a B+. By saying it's a much better film than "4 Months", you're saying that film is worthy of a B or less. What didn't you like about it? While it may not be an easy film to watch (nor one I'd ever be inclined to sit through again), its depiction of life in Romania during that time period was stunning. I'm sure "Police, Adjective" is excellent (I've heard nothing but great things about it), but so was "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 3 Days". Currently, Romanian cinema is among the world's best.

Greg Boyd said...

I need to see "The Death of Mr. Lazarescu", as well. That's supposed to be great (but just as downbeat as "4 Months").