For today’s entry in the 44 Days of Paranoia, I want to take a look at Police, Adjective, a Romanian film from 2009.
Alex (Alexandru Sabadac) is a teenager who has recently been accused of being a drug dealer by a police informant. Burned-out detective Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is assigned to follow Alex and keep him under surveillance and, ultimately, gather enough evidence to send Alex to prison.
However, Cristi quickly realizes that Alex is just a bored kid who likes to smoke weed with his friends. Cristi realizes that Alex isn’t a threat to anyone and, that by doing his job, Critsi will essentially be ruining Alex’s life. As well, Cristi feels that the informant is a bigger threat than Alex but he’s told that the informant is the son of a powerful man and therefore, won’t be prosecuted.
After spending the majority of the film watching Alex and dealing with the drudgery of the never-ending police bureaucracy, Cristi has a meeting with his superior, Anglehache (played, with a subtle brilliance, by Vlad Ivanov). Cristi argues that there’s no reason to arrest Alex and send him to prison for seven years. Anglehache responds by opening a dictionary, forcing Cristi to read the definition of the word “police,” and then explaining why the law must be rigidly enforced regardless of logic. It’s now up to Cristi to decide what’s more important, his conscience or the demands of the state.
I can still remember the Saturday afternoon that I spent watching Police, Adjective. My reason for wanting to see the film was simple: I had never seen a Romanian film before and, living in Texas, there was a pretty good chance that Police, Adjective would be my only opportunity to do so. I approached all of my friends and every member of my family and I said, “We have to see this movie! It’s from Romania!” I could tell by their reactions that they weren’t quite as enthusiastic as I was. “Fine!” I declared, “I’ll see it by myself!” And that’s exactly what I did. Early in the morning, I went down to the Dallas Angelika and I saw Police, Adjective.
When the film started, there were 7 other people sitting in theater. The first two walked out after 15 minutes. The next one left at the 30 minute mark. As the rest of the film played out, I was aware of the other four viewers getting frustrated. I could hear them impatiently rattling their popcorn bags. I could hear a few of them demanding, under their breath, to know how The Dallas Morning News could have possibly given this film a good review. I could hear them as, one-by-one, they stood up and walked out of the theater. By then end of the movie, I was the only one left.
Now, you should understand that Police, Adjective features no violence, no profanity, no nudity, and no mention of religion. In short, the audience didn’t leave because it was offended by anything it had seen. Instead, they left because Police, Adjective is quite literally one of the slowest films ever made. It’s a police film that features no action but instead emphasizes the drudgery of both the work and existence in general. For 90 minutes, we watch as Cristi secretly follows and observes Alex. During that time, Alex pretty much does nothing. Then eventually, Cristi goes back to a depressingly shoddy-looking police station, questions whether the law is worth enforcing, and gets a lecture from a guy with a dictionary.
Exciting stuff, no?
Well, in its own way, it is. Police, Adjective is a film about ideas and, despite what some filmmakers seem to believe, ideas can very exciting. By emphasizing the drudgery of Cristi’s job and rejecting the clichés that audiences have been conditioned to expect when it comes to police films, Police, Adjective invites the viewer to consider their own attitude towards the law. Why do we have laws and do we really need them? Cristi is forced to consider whether his superior’s attitude — that the law must be obeyed just because of the fact that is the law — is correct or if it’s just another excuse to justify the power of the state at the expense of the rights of the individual.
Not only is it a good question but it’s a question that not many films have the courage to ask.
Fortunately, Police, Adjective does.