Police, Adjective (Director: Corneliu Porumboiu): Young police detective Cristi seems to have pulled a pretty boring assignment. Tail a group of hash-smoking teenagers until their dealer appears. He’s been on the case more than a week, compiling detailed but monotonous reports on the movements of his main target, a kid named Victor. One of the other teens, Alex, has been informing on his friend, but so far, all they can charge the kids with is simple possession. His superiors insist that he should wrap up the case by conducting a “sting” operation, and that the kids will give up more information once they’re arrested, but Cristi has been dragging his feet. As he protests to his colleagues, he doesn’t want to send a kid to prison for seven or eight years just for smoking a joint, especially when it wouldn’t even be an offence anywhere else in Europe. Besides, he says, the law is probably going to change very soon.
As the film continues to follow Cristi through his boring days of surveillance and paperwork, we get the sense that there’s going to be a showdown; not with the supposed “criminals” but between Cristi and his boss, the police captain. The grind of the job is palpable, and after an hour of watching this young cop do nothing but wait, some of the audience began walking out. But I think director Porumboiu does something quite brave, by emphasizing the procedure in the standard police procedural. It dawns on Cristi, and on us, that he is nothing but a cog in a vast legal machine, with no ability to make decisions for himself. Everyone else seems to have accepted their place in the bureaucracy, but Cristi talks about his conscience and about moral law.
The final confrontation with the police captain is dazzling. For about twenty minutes, this man demonstrates both his intelligence and his authority by forcing Cristi to read out definitions from a dictionary. He systematically devastates Cristi’s appeals to his conscience as irrelevant to his job as a policeman. Unfortunately, I think a lot of the nuances of their dialogue are lost in the translation to English, but in at least one case there is a political resonance to their discussion. The older man, of a generation that grew up under the dictatorship of Ceausescu objects to one of the dictionary’s definitions of the word “police.” When Cristi reads out a section that describes a “police state,” the captain laughs and says, “Nonsense! The state has always relied on the police.” In the end, he forces Cristi to make a choice between doing the sting and remaining a policeman, or following his conscience out the door into unemployment.
This is smart and challenging filmmaking that requires patience from the audience. Visually, it’s as unexciting as the dingy streets and warren of offices that are Cristi’s habitats. But the sense of being lulled into complacency is important for the latter part of the film, where the young man’s ideals are found wanting. Maybe he joined the police force for excitement, or to do good, but in the end, Cristi takes his place in the creaky apparatus of a state that isn’t about to change as quickly as he would like.