When All Else Fails, Words Still Have A Certain Power

W Dragos Bucur As Cristi i i

A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures: Conversations are the main action sequences as a plainclothes detective (Dragos Bucur) trails a young druggie through a post-Communist Romanian backwater. IFC Films hide caption

itoggle caption IFC Films
W Dragos Bucur As Cristi

A Word Is Worth A Thousand Pictures: Conversations are the main action sequences as a plainclothes detective (Dragos Bucur) trails a young druggie through a post-Communist Romanian backwater.

IFC Films

Police, Adjective

  • Director: Coneliu Porumboiu
  • Genre: Absurdist Comedy
  • Running Time: 114 minutes

Not rated

With: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov

A law-enforcement "procedural" in which no one pulls a gun or knocks down a door, Police, Adjective is about as distant from the Lethal Weapon model as possible — and not just because it's set in Romania.

Neorealist in approach and philosophical in theme, the film is smart, droll and exceptionally dry. A little too dry, in fact. 12:08 East of Bucharest director Corneliu Porumboiu's second feature builds slo-o-owly to a climax that isn't especially climactic.

The story is simple. Youthful plainclothes detective Cristi (Dragos Bucur) has been assigned to gather evidence on Victor (Radu Costin), a teenage hash head. Cristi's boss is sure Victor is a dealer, too, but the cop can find no proof.

For much of the film, Cristi just follows Victor, now and then pocketing a smoked butt for evidence. The scenes are protracted and mostly uneventful, although beautifully composed and sometimes enlivened with witty details.

Occasionally, Victor enters into a conversation with a co-worker, or with his schoolteacher wife, Anca (Irina Saulescu). During some of these talks, Cristi cajoles clerks to get him some information. (Eastern European cinema has long been sensitive to the miseries of sluggish bureaucracy.) But offhand chats often become discussions of law or language.

Cristi lives and works in Vasliu, a decaying post-Communist backwater, and he's not exactly a sophisticate. But he and Anca recently honeymooned in Prague, where the cop noticed a relaxed attitude toward drugs. So as Cristi becomes convinced that Victor is not a dealer, he starts avoiding his superior, Capt. Anghelache (Vlad Ivanov, who played the ominous abortionist in last year's Romanian art-house sensation, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days). Cristi tries to implicate someone else as the hash distributor; when he can't, he simply refuses to bust the kid. His conscience won't allow him, Cristi protests, to ruin Victor's life for an offense that is overlooked in much of Europe. Anghelache asks Cristi to define "conscience." When Cristi falters, the captain orders his secretary to produce a dictionary.

Yes, this is a cop flick in which the final shootout is conducted not with bullets, but with definitions. (Thus the movie's title: "Police" is a word that can be used as several different parts of speech.)

Meticulously constructed, Police, Adjective foreshadows Cristi and Anghelache's showdown with several seemingly casual exchanges. In one, the young cop tells an older one that guys who are inept at one sport will also be bad at another. It's a "law," he says.

Later, Anca informs Cristi that he has misused a word, as recently redefined by the Romanian Academy. Ultimately, Anghelache rebukes the younger man with a question: "Don't you know the meanings of the words you use?" There's a sense that Romania, although no longer run by a notorious dictator, is still a rather Orwellian place. The authoritarian mindset endures, and words are a means of control.

The movie's deliberate style is familiar from the work of other arty filmmakers, as well as from 12:08 East of Bucharest. That movie, too, was a series of wanderings that led to a concluding discussion. But it was livelier, and funnier.

Police, Adjective has considerable power, and the issues it raises linger in the mind. Yet the film takes an awfully roundabout stroll before finally revealing that its lethal weapon is language itself.

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