Police, Adjective

Corneliu Porumboiu

BY Robert BellPublished Jan 14, 2010

Having screened at TIFF, VIFF and Cannes in 2009, winning the Un Certain Regard Jury prize at the latter fest, Police, Adjective has rightfully received mostly positive reviews, being, very likely, the only comedy ever made about semantics.

For most, Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu's follow up to the similarly praised 12:08 East of Bucharest will be far too slow, dwelling on realist settings and the quotidian, but should easily become a top ten list favourite amongst those that appreciate the language of film.

Essentially following a young detective's investigation of a small time teenage pot dealer, this grammatical mind-game unfolds with a series of extended stakeout scenes and the filling out of paperwork. Cristi (Dragos Bucur) expresses a moral (a word literally looked up in the dictionary during the film's climax) plight in arresting a young man for smoking hash, as the law seems arbitrary at best.

Of course, this greyish handling of law is mirrored with the unspoken human distinctions in linguistic interpretation and expression, as every conversation in the film is riddled with miscommunication and pointless arguments.

A prime example comes at the mid-way point, when Cristi sits down at the dinner table and eats — a scene filmed in an extended single take — while his wife sits in the other room repeatedly listening to a flowery, hyperbolic song about love and passion. Following his meal, he points out that the lyrics don't make sense, citing the power of the sun and the rain as absurd. His wife initially states that she hadn't thought much about the words, as a means of avoiding a frivolous exchange, but when prodded by her husband, reveals that she had.

This verbal clarification of a difference of opinion changes nothing for either party, and does little more than aggravate everyone involved, including the audience. Language is presented as dogma, hinging on specificity, but doesn't consider unspoken understandings and pattern recognition.

Despite its deliberate pace, Police, Adjective remains riveting throughout, acting mainly as a drawn-out build-up for a final act punch line that is simultaneously hilarious and terrifying.
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