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Police, Adjective -- Film Review

Benjamin Walker
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CANNES -- The promise of the whimsical title "Police, Adjective" is fulfilled at the end of this likable, cinematically sophisticated but slow-moving police procedural from Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu, who burst into critical awareness with "12:08 East of Bucharest," winner of Cannes' Camera d'Or in 2006. Minimum action and dialogue make it a desirable festival item of uncertain commercial prospects, earmarked for patient art house viewers willing to hang around for long-delayed intellectual payoff.

The small-town police are hot on the heels of a high-schooler who shares a joint of hash with his friends before school. For the law, he's a pusher. Following the case is young detective Cristi (Dragos Bucur), who has the uncompromising stubbornness of a hard-boiled hero, if none of the glamour. His tedious stake-out of the boy's home is akin to watching paint dry, and the fixed camera doesn't make it easier for the audience.

Having traveled to Prague on his honeymoon, Cristi has a broader view of the world than his work-a-day colleagues. The film hinges on the moral dilemma of this ordinary man: If the boy is arrested, he will do prison time, and the detective's conscience won't allow him to ruin the boy's life. While the Captain pushes him to close the case with a quick arrest, he doggedly searches for evidence that would point in a different direction.

Nothing, however, really develops in the film's hyper-realist world. Instead of uncovering a big drug ring, Cristi argues with his wife about misspelled words, and here lies the crux of the matter. The Romanian Academy decrees word spelling with the force of law. But what is the meaning of Law? Police? Consciousness? Does moral law exist? These questions are brilliantly laid out in the long final scene, in which judgment is cast by a dictionary.

Still, it takes a long time to get there, and the film suffers from a lack of focus. Linking the film to "12:08" is its understated style, essential dialogue and subtle depiction of a society in transition, as Romania adapts to the European Union. But most of the film can only be read, and enjoyed, as a character study. As the young cop, Dragos Bucur overcomes Cristi's cold, standoffish personality and commands admiration for his integrity and dedication to his work. The rest of the cast sound humorously low-key notes in fleeting appearances.

The washed-out colors of Marius Panduru's cinematography create a restful world of gray police offices and rainy streets. Though musical comment is absent, one key scene is finely constructed around a Romanian pop love song that leads to a conjugal discussion on symbols and images.

Festival de Cannes -- Un Certain Regard

Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images
Jason Kempin/Getty Images

Production company: 42 KM Film
Cast: Dragos Bucur, Vlad Ivanov, Ion Stoica, Irina Saulescu
Director-screenwriter: Corneliu Porumboiu
Executive producer: Marcela Ursu
Director of photography: Marius Panduru
Production designer: Mihaela Poenaru
Costumes: Giorgiana Bostan
Editor: Roxana Szel
Sales agent: Coach 14, Paris
No rating, 113 minutes