Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Police, Adjective

Police, Adjective is my favorite film of what is known as the Romanian New Wave thus far. This is because it utilizes the stylisms of that movement—stretched-out, languid shots, amplified natural sound, gray, urban color tones and a deadpan outlook on social problems—but not for some sort of real-time affect, or for artsy seriousness, as was the case with previous Romanian films. It utilizes these stylisms for the sake of comedy. Police, Adjective is a stretched-out, gray, deadpan comedy. In this sense, the film becomes a self-effacement of it’s own form, and suggests that the only way to actually change social problems is to laugh at them.

Purely in terms of direction, director Corneliu Pomumbriu (who previously helmed 12:08 East of Bucharest) must be commended for a stunning sense of orientation. The set-piece to remember in this film is an extended scene in which the film’s hero, Cristi (Dragos Bucur) stands beside a concrete barrier serving as a post for street signs in a destitute neighborhood of Bucharest; in between him and the pot-dealing boy he is on the lookout for is a dug-out area blocked off by construction tape and cones. Cristi lights up a cigarette and tries not to look suspicious (he is as average Romanian-joe as possible). Then he watches the boy meet up with two other friends in a parking lot across the street and they light up a joint. Then he follows the girl, who had smoked with the dealer, back to her house along an empty street going up a hill. He makes no moves this entire time, and the shots are alternately from Cristi’s point of view and from the perspective of an omniscient establishing shot. Although they are ugly and unmoving, the concrete barrier he stands against and the haphazard construction site are somehow key elements in the scene. At the scene’s end, we see a shot of Cristi’s write-up of everything he just did.

I can think of no other director who would take such an approach to composing a scene. In Poromboiu’s hands, the write-up we read at the end serves as a clarification of everything we saw in the wordless procedural, and, more importantly, an introduction to the main theme of the film: words. Words dance right through this film. They are addressed, confusedly, in several other key scenes; when Cristi eats dinner with his literate yet pop-music loving girlfriend, and when he must confront the police chief with his admission that he does not want to bust a harmless pot-dealer, because he feels it is a waste of time.

Words are also a primary source of humor in the film. Yet this is not a quotably humorous film; it is one in which visual gags are plentiful but subtle and in which the sheer awkwardness of real communication is played for humor. If Police, Adjective sometimes feels like it could have functioned as a short student film—it is surprisingly long as 115 minutes—then think of its unnecessary length of part of the dry joke. The film ultimately resembles a performer that comes in unexpectedly, does something clever and strange, and leaves. Eastern Europe, known for it’s dourness in cinema, and it’s continuously crumbling view of society, has a sincere humorist in Corneliu Porombiou.