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The Auteurs Daily: NYFF. Police, Adjective

The Auteurs Daily

Police, Adjective

"Less is more in the sophomore feature by Cannes Camera d'or winner Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest), a filmmaker attentive, like his fellow under-40 countrymen Cristi Puiu and Cristian Mungiu, to the ironies of bureaucracy in post-totalitarian Romania." Damon Smith in Reverse Shot: "Police, Adjective is a slow-burning, intriguingly subtle tweak on the crime procedural.... Despite its resemblance to a character-driven psychological suspense film, however bare-bones its approach - it's no Zodiac, and doesn't aspire to be - Police, Adjective is more a showcase for Porumboiu's formal precision with urban anyspace and penchant for mordant, slice-of-life humor, its wry punchline ultimately hinging (as the title boldly hints) on the vagaries of language."

"What does it mean, exactly, to say that a film is 'about language'?" At Not Coming to a Theater Near You, Mike D'Angelo explains why, "try though I might, I can't see how Police, Adjective says anything remotely incisive about how language creates/distorts meaning or influences/inhibits action. An intriguing take on the policier, but Orwell's ghost can rest easy."

For Andrew Schenker, writing in Slant, "Police, Adjective is really two movies, varying significantly in their degree of success. For the first two-thirds of its running time, the film is a deadpan procedural with a moral undertone, sticking with a Bucharest cop through the generally monotonous process of staking out a perp. In the second and worse of the two strands, Police, Adjective becomes a semantic discussion, hashing out the implications of linguistic definition. This second, headier film makes various intrusions amid the first - usually played for comic effect - before taking over for the film's long climax, which amps up the moral seriousness and sinks Porumboiu's work into the realm of tedious academic exercise."

Bucharest "examined, 16 years later, the circumstances of the revolution that brought down the Communist government, but it's real purpose was to bemoan the failure of Romania to build a better society from that opportunity," writes Henry Stewart in the L Magazine. "Police, Adjective, another masterpiece, grapples with a similar idea." The "lingual issues don't quite come to the fore until a brilliant late set piece, in which Cristi's [Dragos Bucur] boss Anghelache (the remarkable Vlad Ivanov, [4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days]'s abortionist) uses a dictionary to guide a Socratic dialogue (a la Plato's Crito) about State Law vs Moral Law. The former may win out, but the point is that when these two are so radically alienated, when law is founded on semantics rather than true morality, your society has failed - and this time, Romania, there's no more Ceausescu around to blame."

"I can forgive Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective for its didacticism because it feels well-earned," offers Simon Abrams at the House Next Door.

Nelson Kim at Hammer to Nail: "An ingenious formal experiment masquerading as a naturalistic docudrama, a quietly hilarious deadpan comedy, and, of all things, a thought-provoking rumination on language, Police, Adjective marks yet another stunning success for the new generation of Romanian filmmakers."

For Brandon Harris, this is the "most satisfying film of the festival thus far."

Earlier: Reviews from Cannes.

Updates, 10/2: Michael J Anderson: "Corneliu Porumboiu's outstanding second feature Police, Adjective (Politist Adjectiv), from the Romanian director's screenplay, renews the temporal emphasis that is among the key markers of its country of origin's nascent 'new wave,' whether one looks to Cristi Puiu's exceptional The Death of Mr Lazarescu (2005) with its real-time synchronization of narrative duration and Mr Lazarescu's final moments, or to Porumboiu's 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) debut, where an on-screen television program wryly considers whether or not a shadow protest occurred in a provincial town around - or even before - the time specified in the English title. (Cristian Mungiu's comparatively underwhelming Cannes prize-winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days [2007] might be proffered as a third example, if for no other reason than for its duration-specific title.) For Police, Adjective, this defining interest characteristically finds expression in an archly modernist long-take aesthetic that underscores the duration of the film's central investigation, and facilitates our own exasperation at its tenor. As such, Porumboiu's latest proves closer to Puiu's organic application of this technique than to Mungiu's ersatz introduction of the long-take."

"Cristi's crisis of conscience serves as a provocative, modern day reflection of innate humanity that is being systematically erased in the soulless pursuit of civilized society," writes Acquarello.


Cullen Gallagher, writing at Not Coming to a Theater Near You, is reminded of The Limits of Control: "Though Jarmusch's intentions still confound me, both filmmakers seem to be using the seeming constraints of genre as a means of transcendence. In the case of Police, Adjective, I am reminded of a question Cristi asks his wife, in reference to a song that she loves and he hates: 'What would toothpaste be without a toothbrush?' So, what is a mystery film without a mystery? Or, turned around, what is a mystery without a mystery film to tell it? In both cases, the answer is the same: while it is possible to have one without the other, sometimes they just go better together. And as much as I enjoyed the rhetorical discussions about the ambiguity of language, Police, Adjective is at its best when the two are working hand in hand."

More from James Hansen and, in Time Out New York, David Fear.

Update, 10/13: S James Snyder talks with Porumboiu for the L Magazine.

Update, 10/15: "This film would make a great double feature with the first episode of Krzysztof Kieslowski's Dekalog series," suggests Mike Hertenstein at Filmwell, "the one where an overconfident language professor (who thinks a big enough computer could even compose poetry) is confronted with a mystery that no rational formula can master. I've always thought it most significant that Kieslowski begins his investigation of moral reality with the implied question of whether ethics is closer to a science or to an art. Likewise, it seems significant that Porumboiu wants to talk about the nature of ethics using an aesthetic that regards his characters more than just vehicles for information. In Police, Adjective the poetic and prosaic collide to raise questions about the thickness of the ground on which we all stand and offers another example of how Romanian filmmakers are enriching the grammar of cinema - by breaking the rules."

NYFF 09: Index; full coverage.

My favorite negative review remains the person who felt the soup wasn’t “very yummy” on camera.

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