Every negative review for Police, Adjective strikes a blow against film movie fascism. Because it’s a Romanian film purportedly exposing fascism, we’re supposed to embrace its paltriness as an anti-Communist virtue, but such political bias is itself a form of fascism. This film about a cop’s linguistic indoctrination exemplifies the cultural indoctrination critics are expected to swallow without question—and certainly not critique.
Primarily a series of pursuit sequences, Police, Adjective watches Cristi (Dragos Bucur) follow a fellow citizen around the city, setting him up for a sting operation to spend several years in prison for smoking a joint. Long medium shots distance us from the cop and his quarry. This “objective” POV, minus drama, is typical of recent Romanian imports.
Director Corneliu Porumboiu (who did the stultifying 12:08 East of Bucharest) continues the movement’s banal idea of realism. Unemphatic filmmaking keeps Romanian cinema from catching fire. Unlike the ’90s Iranian films that excitingly put equal emphasis on form and emotion, these movies void formalist precision and excitement; they’re like accidental travelogues of a not-very-interesting place, interspersed with mundane dialogues—this time, rudimentary discussions about language among the cops.
At one point even more mundanity occurs as Cristi reads case notes and the camera lingers on the hand-written details, even tilting down the page, line by line. After listening to a song on the radio (“Life goes on/ what would life be without you?”), Cristi tells his wife: “This song doesn’t make sense. ‘Life goes on.’ Can it go backwards?” She responds: “It tries to define this ideal love by associating it with symbols, images.” But Porumboiu’s style distrusts images and symbols, and strings out viewer curiosity and interest. He suggests a strangely arrogant backward culture that refuses excitement; it dulls cinema down. Most times you can barely see Cristi’s face, he keeps his head stooped. We need to see that Cristi was a cretin before he was a cop.
Filmmaking like this does no more than capitulate to fascism; it reduces everything to bureaucratic stalling (listening to a distracted receptionist typing, watching detectives debrief). In Altman’s The Long Goodbye, a detective’s pursuit inspired lovely sequences full of atmosphere and local humor. In this film’s highpoint, Cristi’s martinet boss orders a dictionary be brought in and Cristi must read aloud the definition of “conscience.” (“Conscience is something within me that stops me from doing something bad that I’d afterwards regret.”) It’s the art-snob’s equivalent of an action scene. A quick cut to Cristi’s words scrawled on a blackboard (“To have a clear conscience, to be sure of not having transgressed moral law or the laws of the state”) is a version of a CGI explosion. Cristi then looks up and reads the definition of “law.” But it’s anyone’s definition of dull condescension.
Godard and Makavejev used to do this kind of thing as a subversive joke, but here it’s literal-minded didacticism, impressive only to those who don’t know how exciting good political cinema can be. Supervisor Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov, the horny abortionist in 4,3,2 ) instructs Cristi on solipsism, the glum mental condition that describes Romanian cinema apologists. He commands Cristi to draw a diagram, and the dull, square, block graphics could almost be a Romanian movie storyboard.
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Run time: 113 min.
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