I know a movie is in trouble when its press notes tell me more about the story than the film itself. Someone is going to have to explain how the new Romanian film “Police, Adjective” arrives critically acclaimed at the IFC Center, and uptown at the Lincoln Plaza Cinemas, on December 23. It won the Un Certain Regard jury prize at the Cannes International Festival in 2009, the FIPRESCI international critics’ prize and screened at both the Toronto International Film Festival and New York Film Festival in 2009. Is it just that I am not cinematic enough to get “it,” whatever “it” might be? I sense a payoff.
Movies about police work usually just show us the “good” parts: chases, arrests and shootouts. In real life police work can involve lots of dull surveillance, a fact that “Police, Adjective” emphasizes to a fault. In contrast, a film like “The French Connection” (1971) makes police surveillance compelling through its larger than life characters engaged in “cat and mouse” games with potentially big time drug dealers.
In “Police, Adjective” Cristi (Dragos Bucur), an unprepossessing policeman follows a high school student suspected of offering hashish to two school mates. A high school kid giving out pot? Not exactly a premise to keep one on the edge of one’s seat. Add to this the fact that the story is not clear. The latter is due partly to the fact that I was practically falling asleep after being subjected to one excruciatingly long, dull surveillance scene after another, shot mostly in unbroken takes that are mercilessly endless. We also see long takes of Cristi’s domestic life with his girlfriend which give us a sense of their relationship and are actually more interesting than the police work itself.
According to the press notes “Police, Adjective” has to do with word definitions and Cristi not wanting to arrest a young man for doing something irresponsible. Then why doesn’t Cristi go catch a bank robber? It would be infinitely more interesting and exciting.
Police, Adjective, director Corneliu Porumboiu,
IFC Films, 113 minutes, not rated