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    Police, Adjective

    If you're such a detective, why don't you try to detect a plot?

    "Police, Adjective" is a two-hour bore, concealing evidence of the clever psychological drama it probably could have been.


    The Romanian film "Police, Adjective" is so titled because it involves police and can be described with an adjective, and that adjective is "boring."

    Original title: Politist, adj..
    Written and directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu.
    Cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Irina Saulescu, Ion Stoica, Marian Ghenea, Cosmin Selesi, George Remes, Dan Cogalniceanu, Serban Georgevici, Costi Dita, Alexandru Sabadac, Anca Diaconu, Radu Costin.
    Cinematography: Marius Panduru.
    In Romanian with English subtitles.
    Walter Reade Theater
    Lincoln Center, 65th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam
    (212) 875-5600

    New York Film Festival, 2009
    • Overview
    • Antichrist
    • The Art of the Steal
    • Broken Embraces
      • Police, Adjective
    • Precious
    • Wild Grass
    It's about a young cop, named Cristi, assigned to do surveillance on a high school kid who might have something to do with the drug trade in town. How do you investigate such a thing? You follow the kid every day, hide behind cars and posts, and write reports. And what do we do during all of this? We watch. And watch. And watch. And watch. He walks half a block behind the suspect, and we watch. He stops to look at a hole in the ground, and we watch.

    It wasn't too long ago — only about a hundred years — that filmmakers discovered they could cut out the boring parts of the story and just show what's important. When you see a detective at work, you don't have to follow him home and watch him eat lunch to know that he sometimes eats lunch. You can just snip that part out. This cutting-edge concept has perhaps not arrived in Romania.

    Whenever I review an incredibly boring foreign movie, people write in and say, "You should quit writing reviews. You're a stupid American who only knows about Hollywood. Go watch 'Transformers,' you idiot."

    Police, Adjective  
    I'm sorry, not this time. Some of the boring foreign movies that I try to warn you against are clearly attempts at art — with, perhaps, cardboard characters and no plot, but offering at least some attempt at creativity. But not this one! Here's why I'm right.

    There's a scene where Cristi has to explain the case to his commanding officer, but (plot complication ahead!) the commanding officer wants 5 minutes to read his report first. We wait with him — which is to say, he sits in a chair and the camera sits on a tripod, unblinkingly recording him. Nothing moves and no acting of any kind is attempted. For a good five minutes, at least. If the filmmaker is trying to "say" something with this scene, it can only be, "Police are bored." Call this "art" if that makes you feel sophisticated, but it is to filmmaking what painting a wall is to painting.

      When you see a detective at work, you don't have to follow him home and watch him eat lunch to know that he sometimes eats lunch.
    What's weird is, the movie is only an hour and three-quarters of boring. If you cut out all the walking on streets and sitting in offices, you'd actually have 15 minutes that's smart, funny and a little bit profound.

    The micro-plot, and there is one, is that Cristi doesn't think this poor kid is much of a criminal. It would be a shame, he thinks, to lock up this normal kid and wreck his life for sharing a little hash with his friends — violating a law that's barely even a law throughout Europe. "I don't want to put him in jail and then meet him in seven years," Cristi muses. So here (for a few minutes, badly overshadowed by the walking around) is a personal crisis in the making — a challenge to the conscience.

    Police, Adjective  
    His, however, is not to reason why. His is but to do as he's told. The government and, specifically, his superior officer know what's legal and what's not, and they will instruct him and he will obey. Simple. There's the conflict, and there's the meaning that underlies all the walking, sitting and report-writing. So it's a movie about something.

    Another thing the movie is about is sly humor. There are conversations that make me think of the famous "Big Mac" rap from the beginning of "Pulp Fiction" — hyper-earnest conversations about minuscule subjects between people of greater or lesser intellects. It is an unfortunate yet true measure of "Police, Adjective," in fact, that one of the most stimulating conversations in the whole film involves a guy reading definitions out of the dictionary.

      If the filmmaker is trying to "say" something, it can only be, "Police are bored."
    There was a sparklingly good movie inside "Police, Adjective," but it would have taken an extra year of scriptwriting to flesh it out. The endless waiting and watching needed to be condensed, the psychology needed to be explored, and the intensity needed to be turned up. Call me a stupid American if you want, but this film could have used a little America in it.

    OCTOBER 1, 2009

    Reader comments on Police, Adjective:

  • Joshua,   from Anonymous Coward, Jan 10, 2010
  • Joshua   from Nicole, Mar 24, 2010
  • say that again?   from dora, Mar 24, 2010

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