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Let's Call the Whole Thing Off

Police, Adjective (2009)

IFC Films

“The Death of Mr. Lazarescu” and “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” have called worldwide attention to Romanian cinema. But they are tough acts for any film to follow, having set the bar impossibly high. So Corneliu Porumboiu faced an unenviable task. And given that both his debut, 2006’s “12:08 East of Bucharest,” and his follow-up, “Police, Adjective,” claimed awards at the all-important Cannes Film Festival, Mr. Porumboiu has obviously succeeded. But — unfair though the comparisons may be — his two films are nonetheless relatively underwhelming next to “Mr. Lazarescu” and “4 Months.”

“Police, Adjective” is the story of a small-town cop, Christi (Dragos Bucur), who has invested way more time and effort on a drug case than it deserves. And much to his captain’s dismay, Christi refuses to make an arrest because it might ruin the futures of the underage suspects. Judging also from “12:08,” Mr. Porumboiu clearly is interested in the gray area where anything is debatable because it is subject to multiple interpretations and perspectives. While that in itself is no doubt a fascinating subject, there are long stretches in the film that are comparable to looking out the window and watching cars go by. Much like “Zodiac,” “Police, Adjective” is a procedural piece that leads to nowhere.

A more interesting take on the film’s plots would be to scrutinize Christi’s ineffectiveness. Speaking from experience, he comes off as a procrastinator who dreads confronting unpleasant aspects of his job. But alas, Mr. Porumboiu doesn’t intend for the film to be a character study. Thankfully, the film’s climactic scene features a show-stopping performance from Vlad Ivanov, best known as the abortionist in “4 Months,” as the police captain who’ll finally set Christi straight. That scene alone salvages the film, but it is still a letdown for all eyes on Romanian cinema.


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