My current spate of reviews come from the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where I believe I just encountered my first dreaded “festival film” which one writer described as:
“the submerged nine-tenths of the film production world that gets only one or two screenings in its lifetime, in a near-empty cinema in downtown Gdansk or wherever.”
I say this because watching Police, Adjective was more dull than spending three hours in hospital waiting room.*
The film centers around Romanian police officer Cristi, who is tailing a high school pot smoker in the hopes of catching bigger fish. When the investigation doesn’t lead to quick results, his bosses pressure him to make an arrest, even if a few joints mean the kid spends eight years in jail (his bosses always respond, “It will only be three”).
Police, Adjective is one of the slowest paced films I have ever seen. Almost every scene happens in one long take, with characters talking about more irrelevant matters to the plot than those concerning it. Richard Linklater’s Slacker (or really any of his films) featured lengthy ramblings by random characters, but there were ideas being expressed and characters interacting. In Police, Adjective we’re just watching Cristi wait, follow, and occasionally quibble with his wife or co-workers. At least watching paint dry might get you high.
Coupled with these long takes is a slavish commitment to camera placement, with the occasional swivel of the camera to track characters. If I was interested in watching a guy eat his dinner for three to five minutes from one angle, I’d watch a Lumière film.
What director Corneliu Porumboiu doesn’t seem to realize is that cinema can never be “real life” but is the place for the hyper-real, whereby meaning can be tapped from the banality of our own existence. To understand the painful, arduous work of moving against a slow, impersonal bureaucracy, I shouldn’t have to be as bored as the main character – the filmmaker should convey that through editing, acting, etc.–something other than long empty spaces that fail to make you just check the clock.
However, I will give the film some points: the themes relating to the impersonal state and the question of crimes meeting the punishments are intriguing. There’s also a sense of culture lag when Cristi misspells words that have been recently changed, or Cristi’s consternation with his country’s draconian drug laws while the rest of Western Europe is so chill about hashish. Cristi tells his colleagues and even his boss, “Why should this kid lose his future over a law that will change in a few years?” (paraphrased)
So to be fair, there could be a considerable amount of cultural significance packed into this film, making it genius to Romanians of the present day. Even for general audiences, I’d high-five to the director for trying something different. Most of the cuts in the film only occur with a scene change, so he’s obviously resisting the contemporary urge to edit your film like a seizure inducing music video. But Children of Men and Unbreakable knew how to use few cuts to maximize drama and intrigue – this film does not. Police, Adjective represents the worse-case-scenario for those eschewing regular camera edits for “realism” and what you get is a really boring viewing experience.
If you complained about Death Proof or Inglourious Basterds’ stretches of chatter, I’ve got a film to put those complaints in perspective. The film is attempting at social commentary through formalistic simplicity and good acting, but this review is more engaging than the film. Police, Adjective is good for film studies students, bad for general audiences.
*The Romanian ambassador to the U.K. introduced the film. I felt bad for him after seeing the movie.