Police, Adjective

Police, Adjective

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.


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