Resembling a kind of anti-cop movie, Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu’s second feature (after 12:08 East of Bucharest, 2006) follows policeman Cristi (Dragos Bucur) as he reluctantly builds a case against a group of teenagers informed on by one of their peers for smoking a joint. Shot in long, extended takes, it’s a forensic examination of the minutiae of police bureaucracy and procedure but also an acutely subversive take on the struggle between progressive liberalism and repressive ideology in a country still forming an identity of it’s own.
We follow Cristi as he presents his first report to his Chief, expressing his reluctance to follow through with the investigation. If prosecuted, the teenage suspect would serve seven years, for what he considers a minor and victimless offence, one that in the rest of Europe would go unpunished. His optimistically progressive view that it’s pointless arresting him on a charge that in a few years will have relaxed isn’t shared with his Chief, “attitudes may change, but the law won’t”. Besides, the law is the law and who is Cristi to define it by his own moral standards?
And so he continues to build his case, following the suspects and gathering evidence. The camera holds an objective distance over this extended, dialogue free sequence (there are very few close ups in the entire picture), and we’re presented with the facts of the case as Cristi is, even stopping to literally read his reports in full. Semantic nuances in definition and grammar are picked apart by his girlfriend, and in the magnificently understated final sequence with his police Captain Anghelache and a dictionary, his entire belief system and liberal moral compass are systematically and logically undermined, along perhaps with those of the viewer.
“Are you sick? Don’t you know the meaning of the words you are using?”
These academic and etymological discussions on how we, linguistically, define things prove vital to Cristi’s later compliance, what appears to be a full-scale invasion on a couple of kids smoking a joint. In it’s own way it also strangely gripping, although there are longeurs of inactivity as he stakes out the kids, the dialogue sparkles when it comes. Police, Adjective has the restraint and precision of a Michael Haneke picture, but a deadpan sense of humour that recalls Kafka, Kaurismaki and one of the breakthrough films of the Romanian New Wave, The Death Of Mr Lazarescu (2005). It’s a fiercely thought-provoking and intelligent picture, one that pays dividends for your engagement.
Police, Adjective - 2009 - Romania - 115 mins - Dir : Corneliu Porumboiu