Had the three projection issues (framing, scope and missing subtitles) not been fixed by a genial theater staff within the first five minutes of the Romanian drama Police, Adjective, the film might have seemed more challenging. The film plods along, protracted scenes lacking action, dialogue or any details that might add up to …something… by the film’s end, making up its narrative. The film seems to be more about an officer’s internal struggle than any external conflict, but you don’t really know that until it’s over and you realize that nothing has happened. The film is a cheat, repeatedly promising some kernel of dramatic play but never – never – delivering on any level.
Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a cop tailing a kid who’s been ratted out by a questionable friend who says he is dealing hashish. After a week of following the young man to and from his home and school, and placing internal requests for criminal history checks and copies of records, Cristi has nothing concrete other than the boy and his friends (including the snitch) smoking joints in a playground. Without sufficient evidence of dealing, the cop has to handle his own personal crisis of conscience about potentially sending the kid away for years. He’s been sworn to uphold The Law, but thinks this isn’t what’s best.
What should have been more fittingly titled Wait, Verb, director Corneliu Porumboiu strings together long takes that lack, say, the depth and meaning of a Bela Tarr film, instead forcing the viewer to wait on Cristi at each stage of his investigation. When he tells a colleague “get here in ten minutes,” it begins to feel like we are waiting in real time.
The film also suffers from an overall drab quality that evokes dreariness more than realism. From the architecture to the personalities on hand, everything is bland or in disrepair. It doesn’t help that the director chooses to pour over hand-written police reports describing everything that has been shown up to that point, yet with little added insight.
In the final act, Cristi and another officer meet with their captain, who grills them over their duties and use of language. The film perks up considerably through the palpable tension created by the captain’s line of questioning. He effectively deconstructs the men, calmly and precisely dissecting their flawed job performances. Despite this terrific scene, when the film ends we’re left wondering what the point of it all really was. A major disappointment, Police, Adjective does adhere to the captain’s belief in saying what you mean and meaning what you say: it says nothing, because it is about nothing.