Saturday, August 14, 2010

Police, Adjective: Grade A


Police, Adjective (2009)
Dragos Bucur; Writer & Director Corneliu Porumboiu. (Romanian, subtitled)

A police detective (Bucur) in a small town in Romania tracks a teenager who occasionally smokes pot, hoping to find his supplier. Actually, he does not hope that because he thinks the whole investigation is stupid, but he has been assigned to the case by the police chief. He reminds the chief that nobody in Europe gets busted for smoking a joint but the chief tells him that it is the law, and asks him, “Are you above the law?” The theme of the movie is really not about drugs, but about morality, the nature of authoritarian power, the tedium of everyday life, and Romanian politics. (Consider examples of how the word "police" is used as an adjective, to appreciate the subtlety of the political commentary). In illuminating these values, it succeeds completely.

It also succeeds as a masterpiece of cinematography. Every shot is visually perfect, even though it is obvious in many scenes that a building has been painted a certain way for the shot or a post has been whitewashed to bring brightness to the drab, wet, autumnal scene. The camera often lingers, unmoving for long minutes, so we can absorb the stillness of time in that town, in that country, in that character’s life. Several interior shots are through doorways and having the shot framed by the door jamb gives a startling sense of intimacy.

Caution, however: This not an American style film. It is extremely slow, even by European standards, and absolutely nothing happens. There are no guns, no car chases, no naked women, no drug deals, no violence of any kind. There is nothing going on but a detective walking the grubby streets, smoking, talking in the office. The beauty and the mastery of the picture is entirely “inner.” If you are not an inner person, there is nothing here for you. But if you liked Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), you’ll understand what this one is about.

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