A police procedural that’s less about criminal
matters than it is about dialectics and existential quandaries,
Corneliu Porumboiu’s “Police, Adjective” is an anti-thriller in which
little happens — there is plenty of talk, but even more silence. This
cunning and provocative Romanian film requires patience, but its
rewards are many: It’s hard to imagine how a scene in which a police
captain barks an order to bring him a dictionary can be loaded with
suspense, but, really, it is.
Forget the car chases; just watch as our hero flips the pages until he finds the definition for conscience. White-knuckle stuff.
Said protagonist is Cristi (
a young detective in Vaslui, a drab northeastern Romanian town that
still bears the scars (and much of the architecture) of its Soviet
past. Wearing the same sweater and jeans for days, not to mention the
same impassive expression, he trails a school kid suspected of dealing
hashish. His superiors want a sting operation, but Cristi is torn: Why
ruin a kid’s life (he could go to jail for seven years) for what is
essentially a victimless crime?
Porumboiu’s style is steady, observational, his
camera tracking Cristi along the streets in much the way Cristi tracks
his subject. There’s a lot of stairway-climbing and hallway-walking, as
Cristi navigates the police-HQ bureaucracy.
And two pivotal scenes don’t sound like much, but
they’re wonderful: smart, funny, profound. In the first, Cristi and his
wife (Irina Saulescu), a linguistics professor, debate the merits of a
schmaltzy pop song and its imagery of seas and sunshine. He has no
patience for its cliched metaphors; she sees the bigger meaning in its
And the big payoff in “Police, Adjective” is
Cristi’s encounter with his boss, in which the detective refuses to
follow orders and bring his suspect in.
It’s a conversation about language and meaning. And
about the absence of meaning, both in the words being said, and,
perhaps, in the lives of the people speaking them.
3 1/2 stars
MPAA rating: Unrated
Running time: 01:55
Cast: Ion Stoica; George Remes;
Directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu
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