Romanian film review – Crime and punishment: Police, Adjective

If I had to chose the question I get asked most when talking about Romanian cinema, the uncontested winner would be: “Who’s your favorite ‘New Wave’ director?“. Needless to say, I’m not a fan of this one; like all questions on favorites and top-tens and the like, it instantly makes my brain freeze for a second, just to then make me go into a state of endless rambling about the merits of so many filmmakers. To be very honest though, I do have a huge fondness for Corneliu Porumboiu. His films are without exception perfectly told stories.

His latest movie and third long-feature, Când se lasă seara peste Bucureşti sau metabolism/When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism has just premiered at the prestigious film festival of Locarno in Switzerland, and it looks very promising. Obviously, I am counting the days to its Romanian premiere and am also planning on re-watching his previous films until then, just to make the waiting time bearable.

Porumboiu’s undisputed masterpiece is his pitch-perfect long-feature debut, the black comedy A fost sau n-a fost?/12:08 East of Bucharest, but his subsequent effort is just as intelligent and complex, albeit very different in style and tone.

Polițist, adjectiv/Police, Adjective is a sombre and thorough meditation on the complexities of crime, punishment, as well as social and individual thinking. In the provincial town of Vaslui (also the director’s home town), a young police officer is assigned to a drug case which entails tailing a local teenager suspected of dealing hashish. In the course of the case, the officer starts asking himself whether such a young person should be imprisoned for a relatively small ‘crime’ and is less willing to feed a child to the indiscriminating Romanian justice system. His commanding officer though has a completely different view of the matter and wants to close his case with a conviction, no matter how harsh.

Police, Adjective is a heartbreaking and ultimately very bleak film but not without flashes of warmth and humor. It goes to Porumboiu’s greatest credit that a matter so grave can be such a thrill to watch. And it goes to his bigger credit that contemporary Romanian problems as acute as individual prejudice, collective ignorance and a failing justice system are rendered with such great nuance.

Slow-paced, complex, and with little dialogue, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those willing to let themselves conquered by the engrossing storytelling, this is a grabbing, wonderfully rewarding experience. And the ending is simply sublime, a tense and jaw-dropping meditation on empathy, institutionalized reasoning, and the dangers of taking things too literally. Best ending scene in Romanian cinema. Period.

No other director is working with such precision as Porumboiu and this impressive perfection is seen in every frame and every piece of dialogue. No matter how weightless or amusing, his films are works of great care and detail, and a beautiful homage to the cinematic medium.

Admirable, thrilling, and very haunting Police, Adjective is a masterpiece which, in an ideal world, would be compulsory viewing in schools, both in film and social issues classes. If you haven’t watched it yet, you should do so urgently; the ever-reliable Cărturești stores keep a solid DVD edition.

By Ioana Moldovan, columnist, [email protected]

Romania Insider
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