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Cannes 2009: Questionable Observation ("Politist, Adjectiv," Porumboiu)

The emphasis on observation in the recent upsurge Romanian cinemas has, in the films I’ve seen, always been a style and not a commentary. Corneliu Porumboiu’s enthralling Politist, Adjectiv changes that quite simply, and does so by telling a policier so banal that its participants—and the audience—really has little else to do but question the interpretation of facts, images, and text.  It is not just a matter of the meaning of what is seen, but its moral interpretation as well, seemingly all our lead detective is left to do during a time-wasting case trailing weed smoking teenagers.  When one’s work, one’s life, is this pointless, the distance between the facts and a philosophical view of these facts is very small indeed.  Indeed, Politist, Adjectiv’s dedicated, commonplace genre routine asks the same from its audience as the central case’s normalcy asks from its investigator.  And what is a cinema audience but investigators?

The process—the film and the investigation—begins with single shot scenes of uneventful reconnaissance of minor unlawful activities with no action and little room for mystery.  Yet, gradually, these are set against stunning insert shots panning down the full length of our detective’s written police reports recapitulating and interpreting the images we just saw, and later against hilarious dialogs between the detective and his wife on the meaning of vague, idealistic romantic song lyrics, revised Romanian grammar, and, much later, a never-ending lesson by the detective’s captain on the true meaning of “conscience,” “law”,” and “moral.”  Considering the amount of time wasted on this case, there seems little to do in the world but talk about the accepted meaning of phrases, feelings, thoughts, and events.

Through Porumboiu has an axe to grind about overly strict and outdated Romanian law, the potency of Politist, Adjectiv lays in the unsolved, cubic and multimedia key-to-the-puzzle aspect of these interstitial scenes, where petty events are cast and recast in minute ways by interpreting them differently through song, written text, computer reports, dictionaries, and drawings.  The solution isn’t the solving of the crime, but rather in determining one’s own philosophy in life by taking a stance in interpreting it, as in Martin Ritt’s The Molly Maguires—observing the facts and finding one’s own matrix to understanding them.  The subjectivity of this attitude, in the face of the often naïve realism, or naturalism, or invisible style of these Romanian films is a startling relief that aggregates powerfully as Politist, Adjectiv proceeds.  It is a necessary dose of consciousness in a cinema that has been working towards seeming unaware.

Getting to watch 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, Proumboiu’s previous film, is worth any trouble finding the DVD might require: satirical and honest, withering and sympathetic, sad-hilarious— a paradoxical horselaugh at media’s promotion of historical mythologizing.

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