POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009)

By the same Romanian writer-director who made 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006), Politist, adjectiv is a police procedural that develops into something considerably more. Indeed, the film proceeds from the start along simultaneous lines, one that’s external, how a young undercover cop goes about his business trailing a kid who is a suspected pot dealer, and another that’s interior, this cop’s crisis of “conscience” over the fact that this case of his is likely to end in the ruination of the boy’s life. Cristi, who has quite a name to live up to, works for the police force in Vaslui; the boy he is pursuing, he believes, isn’t selling marijuana but simply sharing what he has with friends. His by-the-book chief is skeptical of this and dismissive of its relevancy in any case; the law is the law. The law will soon enough change, Cristi reasons, based on how “the law” deals with such matters in more progressive parts of the world. Meanwhile, however, “the law is the law.” Corneliu Porumboiu sets the quarrel between police chief and officer in the shadow of Romania’s own recent political history. Police, adjective is the translation of the title: the word police, that is, as in police state.
     Photographed by Marius Panduru to achieve a fine dinginess suggestive of residue of the past, Porumboiu beautifully captures the rhythm of Cristi’s police work, the quiet sparkle of his marriage to a schoolteacher, and his inevitably losing battle of wits with his chief, who breaks the spine of Cristi’s resistance by having him investigate the meanings of four words in the dictionary: conscience, law, moral and, of course, police. If only Cristi had known his Hamlet: “Words, words, words.”
     A captivating minor masterpiece.
      FIPRESCI Prize Un Certain Regard, Cannes.

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