“Police, Adjective” confounds expectations. It’s neither a conventional crime film nor a police drama. Rather it’s a gently subversive intellectual exercise, a philosophical jest wrapped in police-procedural clothing that examines not just the scene of the crime but also the power of language and the use and abuse of words.
Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, who did the Cannes prize-winning “12:08 East of Bucharest,” “Police, Adjective” is the latest effort in the Romanian New Wave, the newest bleakly ironic film to come from that former Iron Curtain country.
Like many of the previous films, “Police, Adjective” submerges us in the dailiness of Romanian life, here the particular life of a young police detective named Cristi (Dragos Bucur) who is facing a crisis of confidence about his chosen profession.
Cristi has been assigned by his superior to follow up on a tip that a high school student has been pushing marijuana. By the time we meet him, he’s followed the young man for a few days and is already bored with the assignment.
And no wonder. As we are soon to see for ourselves, police work of this kind is tedious, demanding the devotion of long hours of observation to the most enervating situations.
It’s not only the stakeouts that lack excitement, other aspects of Cristi’s life -- the meals prepared by his new wife, the constant negotiation for information with his police colleagues -- do not exactly galvanize us with exhilaration.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Cristi is not involved with his case. He thinks about it constantly and has come to the conclusion that the young man who’s the official suspect is innocent and the student who tipped off the police is the guilty party.
Not wanting to have it on his conscience that he ruined a person’s life with an unmotivated arrest, Cristi resists institutional pressure to wrap things up quickly.
If this were a conventional police story, the question of what actually happened, of who the guilty party is, would play a major part. As it is, that question soon disappears in a series of conversations centering around dictionary definitions of words like “conscience” and “police.”
Wielding the dictionary is Cristi’s supervisor, the man he’s been trying to avoid, Captain Anghelache. Potently played by Vlad Ivanov, who was the terrifying abortionist in “Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days,” Anghelache’s way with words changes everyone’s thinking and turns the film on its ear.
“Police, Adjective” may not be the film you’re expecting, but it’s one that will stay on your mind.