(2009) dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
The Romanian New Wave, anyone?
Well, outside of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005), I can’t claim any experience with it, despite the fact that director Corneliu Porumboiu’s 12:08 East of Bucharest (2006) and Christian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007) have had the buzz that typically draws one to films that one doesn’t necessarily know that much about. Well, anyways, the press must be continually lazy calling it the “Romanian New Wave” because while new, surely, and a wave perhaps, it’s not particularly poignant nomenclature. Heck, I don’t begin to have a picture of it too much yet.
Actually, for me personally, this is kind of an unusual thing, because I watched this film on Pay-Per-View, which I am categorizing as “TV”, though it’s still on its theatrical run. I guess it’s some deal struck by the IFC film channel, which I don’t even get, and distributors, but both this film and the English film Fish Tank (2009) are available while still in cinemas (Fish Tank just opened yesterday in San Francisco). And what with liking going to the cinema, being pretty well satisfied by Netflix, this isn’t something that I’ve done too often (as in never), watching a film that perhaps I should be seeing in the cinema on cable. I’ll spare you my Comcast drama around this, but let’s just say that I had some ironic setbacks in trying to forge a new relationship with Pay-Per-View (so I am not necessarily endorsing it here).
Police, Adjective sounded interesting to me, but it’s not the kind of film that is apt to sound interesting to “just anybody”. It’s viciously slow and downbeat, low energy and perhaps ultra-understated. The story follows a plain-clothes policeman in a Romanian town, set to follow some pot-smoking teens, set to bust one of them for sharing his stash with friends, therefore (distributing). But the cop doesn’t feel that it’s a crime really, considering how other European neighbors treat such an offence, and is loath to send the kid up the river unnecessarily.
The film follows his dull routine, following these pot-smoking teens, who really don’t do anything unusual. He spends hours just waiting for nothing to happen, and it starts reflecting badly on him professionally. Ultimately, he’s faced with a conundrum, moral law (his personal feelings about right and wrong given the circumstances) and the literal interpretation of terminology, not just the law as it is set, but the definitions of “law”, “moral law”, “morality”, “police”, as spelled out by his superior from a Romanian dictionary.
And really, this is what the film is about. Semantics. Language. Meaning. Morality. Rules. Interpretations of rules. But also a set of legal rules that have come down through a historical system (and without questioning their meaning or rightness), the requirement of one to follow said rules. It’s really quite funny how a film, so slow moving, slow-evolving, a film where so little happens, becomes so thought-provoking while so low-key, so down-beat, and so seemingly unchallenging.
Perhaps this is part of the nature of “The Romanian New Wave”. Something to do with the social structures, the power, the old Soviet structures (buildings and rules) that have been left behind to be interpreted in the here and now either by literalists or by those with a broader perspective. It’s really quite amusing. Like a joke whose punchline gets delivered in full only hours after the movie has finished. Irony, yet implacability.
Interesting. Seriously interesting for those willing to challenge themselves to such a thing. And on Pay-Per-View too, if you can’t find it in your local cinema.
Is it a good or a bad thing, this? I don’t know. Neither literally, nor figuratively, nor morally, nor symbolically.