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Police, Adjective

Not rated, 113 min. Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu. Starring Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Irina Saulescu, Ion Stoica, Marian Ghenea, Cosmin Selesi.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Feb. 26, 2010

This police procedural by the Romanian director of 12:08 East of Bucharest is a fascinating study of the meaning of language in everyday life – a particularly keen topic amid the social upheaval of post-Communist, post-Ceausescu Romania. Police, Adjective is a cop story, not a documentary on linguistics, though its exciting climax – I kid you not – consists of dictionary recitations of the meanings of several key words: “police,” “conscience,” “moral,” and so on. Ironically, Police, Adjective avails itself of very little dialogue to make its points, though what it does use is choice. Winner of the Un Certain Regard jury prize at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, the film tells the story of a detective named Cristi (Bucur), who is tasked with busting a high school kid for sharing some hashish with a couple of friends. Cristi knows the arrest will ruin the kid’s life and doesn’t want that on his conscience. He also thinks it’s pointless to enforce a law that he suspects will be eradicated in a couple of years. He’s been tailing the student for a while, trying to identify his supplier or discover some bigger fish to fry. His commander, however, wants immediate results. Much of the film seemingly unfolds in real time as we observe Cristi on his solitary stakeouts and trying to coax information from the police department’s intractable bureaucracy. At first, he seems an unlikable figure, wearing the same clothes day after day and apparently having no friends in the department. A colleague who’s been pestering Cristi for a certain invitation complains in exasperation, “Just say you don’t want me to come.” Cristi, who has continually resisted his colleague’s entreaties without actually saying the word “no” replies, “I think I just did.” Cristi understands that meaning is not always clearly stated, as in a dictionary. Conversations such as this pop up all over the place in Police, Adjective, with one notable sequence being a discussion he has with his wife (Saulescu) over the meaning of the lyrics of a popular song. As time passes, however, (the not unintentionally named) Cristi is revealed to be a good, thoughtful detective, who is trying to perform his job with the utmost integrity. Hmm, integrity: Wonder how that translates into Romanian? Though formally astringent, Police, Adjective is dotted with lots of humor and is hardly the linguistic lullaby I've probably caused you to fear.
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