Release Date: Dec. 23
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
Starring: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov
Cinematographer: Marius Panduru
Studio/Run Time: IFC Films, 113 mins.
That shopworn phrase “by the book” takes on a doggedly literal meaning in Police, Adjective. Shot through with sour irony rather than bullets, this Romanian policier is satirically inert—a drama of lingering inaction, boredom, and paperwork. Yet, the scenario is one that Kafka fans can appreciate, one in which seemingly mundane linguistic and grammatical distinctions become ever more complex and darkly philosophical.
Picking up where he left off in the previous 12:08 East of Bucharest, director Corneliu Porumboiu anatomizes the absurdity of life in a post-regime society that is still hung up on bureaucratic ritual and boxed in by the structure of dogmatic authority. A young detective named Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is trailing some high school kids who routinely indulge in a few hits of hashish. He doesn’t think it’s much of a case. A little dope smoking is scarcely an offense worth anyone’s time. But his superiors insist he stay the course, and much of what the film details is the drab accumulation of minuscule details and Cristi’s increasing annoyance and discomfort at stalking his prey.
Yet, this is a world in which negligible details can be as formidable as gunfire. At one point, Cristi goes home to his wife and an argument of sorts erupts over the lyrics to an achingly banal pop song. All those flowery metaphors and similes, he contends, are superfluous lies. The script’s tone of deadpan, yet escalating, ridicule and exasperation plays out a little like a post-Eastern Bloc riff on Curb Your Enthusiasm (or the rhetorical banter of Willie and Eddie in Stranger Than Paradise). Bucur’s bemused, hangdog self-regard helps to sell these situations as deeper and more troubling, however, and never more so than in the film’s 10-minute climactic set piece. This run-in with the police chief (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days heavy Vlad Ivanov) finds the reluctant detective’s good intentions ruthlessly challenged by the letter of the law, as determined not in a dizzying car chase but … a consultation with the dictionary. Ivanov’s bravura turn as the stickler from hell isn’t just the stuff of cubicle-dweller nightmares, but those that hang like a dark cloud over an entire nation.