Police, Adjective (2009) – A Detective Wading Through Dialectics

By Arun Kumar

Featured in IMDb Critic Reviews
Police, Adjective, Movie Poster
Police, Adjective (2016) By Corneliu Porumboiu
Police’ is only a noun or a verb. However, it is employed in adjective form to either denote police procedural where mysteries are solved through detective’s ingenuity or to address a police state. The lead police character in Romanian film-maker Corneliu Porumboiu’s “Police, Adjective” [aka ‘Politist, adjectiv’, 2009] stays true to the adjective form. But, not the kind of ‘adjective’ form we usually watch in on-screen police procedural. There are no hard punches, gun pulling and big twists. What we see is definitely a ‘procedure’, which is as mundane as our drab office jobs. And, within that routine work there raises a central conflict for our protagonist, between submitting to rule of law and his own moral law. The word play in the title is also an indication that this film is more about linguistics and one’s interpretation of words rather than about ingenious deduction. “Police, Adjective” might be small in scope or scale, but it conveys what it wants to through precise and a little exhausting visual language. The trademark dry comedy of the Romanian New Wave is put to perfect use to comment on the nature of policing and the inherent partition between justice and law. Winner of 2009 ‘Un Certain Regard’ price at Cannes, the film’s static shots, slow pace and absence of narrative motivation would make many declare it as ‘very boring’, but with abundance of patience, we can get some food for thought, if only we pierce through that drab narrative surface.

Our Rating: 8.0
IMDb Ratings: 7.1
Genre: Comedy | Crime | Drama
CastDragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Ion Stoica
Country: Romania
Language: Romanian
Runtime: 113 min
Color: Color

“Police, Adjective” opens in some dingy corner of Bucharest city. A young student is on his way to school and a man, who happens to be a detective named Cristi (Dragos Bucur). The boy smokes, and once finished with it, he throws it down. Cristi rushes through, picks it up, and checks. Once he finished following the boy to high-school, Cristi returns to white-grey painted office, riddled with rusty bureaus, dusty files, and old desktop. He reports to the prosecutor about tailing the boy. The boy named Victor, now and then, smokes a bit of hashish (or joint) with his friend Alex and a girl, near the school playground. Alex have squealed (or denounced) his friend Victor, stating Victor’s brother is the dealer of hashish. Cristi has been following Victor for a week but there is nothing to confirm that either he or his brother is the dealer. Cristi also wonders why Alex would denounce his friend (it might be because of the girl, he says in his report to the prosecutor). Most importantly, Cristi doesn’t want to arrest the boy for just smoking a joint with his friends in public, especially when there is no evidence of the boy distributing the drug. Unlike, other European countries, there’s strict law on smoking joint in the public and the boy may get up to three-and-a-half to seven year jail term. Cristi’s supervisors aren’t hanging to those moral obligations. They just expect Cristi to think in terms of formal law and be a policeman.
A Still from Police, Adjective
A Still from Police, Adjective
There’s a very naturalistic approach taken to stage the subject matter, consisting of static and slowly crawling shots. From the very first shot, the director is keen on showing us Cristi’s life, which is anything but exciting. The pretty dull trailing, the tiresome one-man surveillance, the boring talks with officials, long detailed reports, exhausting red tapes are totally different from the life of a cop we expect to see on-screen. The shot compositions keep out Cristi, while he is looking at teenagers going on about their habitual smoking and then he is kept at an edge, as he wordlessly follow them from some distance (keeps one or two person between him and the target). The routines are precisely staged to makes us note the time dedicated to such a simple case about kids smoking a joint (the typical rhetoric provided is that it is thorough police work). There are also no visible transitions to Cristi’s character. The transition that happens at the very end is also so subtle (explaining the ‘sting’ through the diagram and a flat voice is one of the masterful decision made by the director).

A Still from Police, Adjective
A Still from Police, Adjective
Corneliu Porombiu makes satirical social drama on the stonewalling, soulless bureaucratic policies of Romanian authority. Through his characters’ indifference, he subtly notes at the relationship existing between Romania’s modern authority and the nation’s past repressive ‘police state’. But, even if we aren’t aware of Romania’s oppressive post-World War II history, we can connect with the situation, since bureaucratic blockades and close-minded thinking are universal in nature. Despite fixing on to a particular issue to satirize, the writer/director allows his character and their conversations to evolve in an organic manner. There’s no didactism and the character’s emotional intelligence isn’t used to stir the dramatics. Nothing seems to happen in the narrative, but with a subsequent viewing, each word uttered by the character seems to offer profound meaning about the ‘State’s’ rigid control over language and law. Cinema’s typical meaning about ‘procedural’ changes in the couple of sequences, when the camera looks down on the report typed by Cristi after a humdrum surveillance. It clearly shows how the attention is given to language and the words used; not to personal deduction or actions.
A Still from Police, Adjective
In one scene, we see Cristi arguing with his intelligent wife Anca about a band’s song. To which, she explains the use of images and concepts of abstract thinking, symbolism, etc. Later, in another conversation Anca points out grammar in Cristi’s report is out-of-date, changed recently by Romanian academy. The understanding of these two scenes plays a vital role in the final showdown with between Cristi and his boss (a fantastic Vlad Ivanov) with the Romanian dictionary. Without raising their voices, they make a striking argument. In the end, we are left to think about how the use of language, its interpretations and the perception of law is intricately linked. The details of crime and the relevance of justice become secondary; the communication of written law becomes the predominating aspect. Furthermore, the conversations make us wonder that if there is an academy to change out-dated words, why aren’t there changes to out-dated laws? Director Porumboiu’s also taps on to our inherent dilemma in choose over emotional or intellectual deliberations. Nevertheless, the trouble for a viewer would be find a space to clearly interpret its themes and come to a understanding, within a narrative that is more or less occupied with monotonous procedures (or what looks like casual talks). In movies like this, it is hard to convey tedium without coming closer to pass on the ennui upon viewers. “Police, Adjective” doesn’t cross the line to become totally tedious, but the exhausting procedure could affect the viewers’ desire to interpret. A second viewing helped me to pass through the little visual obstacles to grasp the aforementioned simple statement, the film wants to make. 

“Police, Adjective” (115 minutes) is all about the language, used by a grumbling system to oppress and keep in line the people, afflicted by set of moral obligations. A meaningful cinema with a conscience.

About Author - 

Arun Kumar is an ardent cinephile, who finds solace by exploring and learning from the unique works of the cinematic art. He believes in the shared-dream experience of cinema and tries to share those thoughts in the best possible way. He blogs at Passion for Movies and 'Creofire'.

Readers, please feel free to share your views/opinions in the comment box below. As always your feedback is highly appreciated!


Police, Adjective (2009) Trailer (YouTube)

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