Saturday, 26 March 2011

Nothing Much Happens

I am rather fond of films in which nothing much happens. Police, Adjective, by Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu is such a film. In it the main protagonist, a policeman by the name of Cristi, spends most of his days alone, outside in the cold, desolate urban Romanian landscape, following suspects and attempting to be inconspicuous. The case he is on concerns a teenager suspected of supplying hashish to his school friends, a petty crime, but one which carries a potential prison sentence of seven years. Cristi is troubled by his conscience. He sees his target as just a kid who smokes a bit of pot, who poses no harm to society, but Cristi's superiors want the teenager arrested.

The majority of the film shows Cristi in silence pursuing his victim along city streets a discreet distance behind, hands in pockets, head hunched, long grey shots where nothing much happens. When he is not walking Cristi is standing outside buildings, smoking cigarettes, waiting for his target to emerge. We discover his character through his movement and body language. Other scenes show the drudgery of the Police offices, meetings Cristi tries to avoid, paperwork and bureaucracy he can't avoid. It would be tempting to describe Police, Adjective as Kafkaesque, because it deals with bureaucracy, but that would be too easy. This is not as sinister as Kafka, merely bored people going about their daily routines, keeping busy with meaningless tasks because that is what they have to do to earn a living.

Our hero attempts to delay the inevitable sting operation by trying to prove the kid is not the supplier, it’s his older brother, who is out of the country at the moment, and they should await the brother’s return before acting, but in a crucial and brilliant penultimate scene where Cristi faces his Captain and his conscience we learn through a Romanian dictionary the meanings of the words ‘conscience’, ‘law’, ‘moral’ and ‘police’, and Cristi is finally convinced he has no choice but to carry out the sting. Police, Adjective is a beautifully shot, superbly paced study of absurdity and bureaucracy and the traps in which we all allow ourselves to be placed within our ordinary everyday existence.

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