Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu never met a man walking down a long hallway he didn’t want to film in great detail. Porumboiu, a member of the new Romanian wave of filmmakers who got some attention with his film 12:08 East of Bucharest, is one of those directors who will not only show you a guy walking down the street to his office but will follow that guy up the stairs, down a hallway, through another hallway, watch him as he fumbles with his keys, film him opening the door to his office, shoot him throwing down his hat and coat, keep the camera on him as he sits down and reads a piece of paper that’s about how much he walked that day.
That, essentially, is Police, Adjective in a nutshell. An infuriatingly slow, pointless movie, this film is exactly the kind of movie that gives film festivals a bad name. A regular moviegoer who attended the AFI Festival screening of the film yesterday, brought in by Police, Adjective‘s Un Certain Regard trophy at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, would have had all of their worst notions about foreign festival films reinforced for two horrible hours. Dull, unengaging and utterly convinced it’s way more clever than it is, Police, Adjective is why your family won’t watch subtitled movies.
The completely uncharismatic Dragos Bucur plays Cristi, a cop in a small Romanian city assigned to tail a school kid who smokes hash. The brass wants the kid caught in a sting operation but Cristi is worried that the boy, a good kid who simply shares his dope with his friends and doesn’t actually deal, will have his life ruined. This is established in the movie’s opening ten minutes and then most of the remaining one hundred and five minutes is spent with Cristi silently observing the kid smoking with his friends and standing outside a house with nothing going on. I’m not even beginning to exaggerate here – the film spends the vast majority of its running time with Cristi standing around doing nothing.
Yeah, I get it. I get that the stakeout detail is boring. I got it about six minutes into the movie. And I get Cristi’s moral dilemma, and I got it as soon as he spelled it out to a colleague at the opening of the film. But Police, Adjective just keeps piling on the long, static shots of Cristi standing around in shitty, chilly Romanian streets. Then it shoves three scenes about language into the mix, scenes that have nothing to do with the main story (there’s a minor connection between the semantics and the plainspoken way that Cristi documents his boring ass days in his reports, but come on already. That’s not very interesting). The stuff about language – presented as monologues in the otherwise mostly silent film – is just as obvious as Cristi’s moral dilemma, but Porumboiu, who also wrote this thing, feels the need to keep harping on it anyway. And Porumboiu manages to have his dull cake and eat it too by having the monologues often occur after monstrous periods of screen inactivity; one happens after we watch Cristi eat dinner for six minutes while his wife listens to the same shitty pop song in its entirety twice in a row (they then discuss the meaning of symbols in language, which is almost thrilling after watching a man eat his fucking dinner in a single shot all that time), while another – the big ‘climax’ of the movie – happens after Cristi waits for his boss to read his report on the hash smoking kid. And we wait with Cristi IN REAL TIME.
This film was advertised as being sort of funny, but there’s nothing happening in the film that would qualify as humorous by even the most lenient standards. I searched the web for positive reviews, desperate to understand what I was missing here and found people praising an endless sequence where a lady behind Cristi tries to get her dog to follow her as being funny. What the fuck?
Actually, Police, Adjective is a perfect example of a Festival Effect movie. The film’s not funny and it’s not interesting, but at about the halfway point I could feel the audience desperately trying to cling to something. They would begin laughing uproariously at lines that were simply not funny or witty. I’ve seen it again and again, especially during boring foreign films; the audience wants to have something to enjoy, and just like a taste of tripe would be heavenly to a starving man, so is a dryly unfunny line of dialogue in a Romanian death march after an hour and a half. Fuck, at least someone is talking.
At about nine minutes Police, Adjective might have been tolerable. At just shy of two hours it’s a slog that would have Bela Tarr tearing out his hair. Porumboiu doesn’t have that much to say, and he really takes his time saying it. I don’t think that movies need to entertain me – I am okay being terrified, annoyed, sad, troubled, offended and even tricked by movies. But I won’t stand being bored. People disrespect splatter films by saying that grossing people out is the easiest thing you can do, but the reality is that boring them to death is the easiest thing to do. And Porumboiu is really good at it.
0 out of 10