We all know about cop movies – they follow a certain formula. There are crimes, an investigation and, hopefully, a resolution. Police, Adjective, directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, is a Romanian film about a policeman and his enquiry that is about as different from a normal cop movie as it is possible to get. This isn’t the only good thing about it.
Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a policeman in a small town somewhere in Romania. He has been assigned to investigate some teenagers who are smoking pot, that’s old-school hash mind you rather than braincell-killing skunk. Neither the teenagers nor the job is hard – we’re not talking knife-wielding UK teenagers here – they even conveniently drop their roaches for Cristi to pick up as evidence.
The pace of the film is certainly not a Heat-style edge-of-your-seat frenzy, you could say it’s quite slow. There are a lot of long shots: the camera lingers over the entire school yard where the criminals smoke their joints. With no close-ups on faces, there isn’t much in the way of tension. Do these guys even worry about getting caught, let alone know the police are onto them? Probably not.
This cinematic technique of showing the action at a distance conveys the attitude of our hero. He is detached from his life as a policeman and husband. He’s troubled by the idea of sending young people to prison for offences he considers to be minor, perhaps also his small town life is slightly boring. Despite this detachment, the film isn’t boring, instead it has a tone bemusement and minor rebellion.
At one stage in the film, Cristi discusses a visit to Prague where he says spliff-smoking is considered a relatively minor misdemeanour. Mention of Prague immediately brings to mind Kafka, that great prophet of the futility of bureaucracy and existential estrangement. Police Adjective has an amusingly bizarre quality, that’s almost Kafkaesque. Fun is had at the expense of the shabby, run down Romanian officialdom.
A subtle vein of humour runs through the film. Cristi spends the first half trying to avoid a meeting with his boss like a naughty teenager, he later gets involved in strange discussions about grammar and the correct definition of words, and a scene showing his wife (Irina Saulescu) listening to a crazy, overblown pop song on a continuous loop is an eccentric high. It’s true that all this doesn’t follow the conventional joke structure of set-up and punchline, but it is funny.
This is not your standard Hollywood fare. Cristi’s stakeout of the possible source of the drugs takes the polar opposite course to the American movie model. Rather than two cops sitting in a car, drinking coffee and eating donuts while cracking jokes, poor old Cristi stands on his own in the corner of a square of empty ground and doesn’t seem to learn anything at all. The film still draws us sufficiently into the life of its characters, even the pot-smoking youngsters who we never see more than the backs of their coats, that it is enjoyable. Police, Adjective is a little strange and quite slow, but gently amusing.