A police procedural that's less about criminal matters than it is about dialectics and existential quandaries, Corneliu Porumboiu's Police, Adjective is an anti-thriller in which little happens - there is plenty of talk, but even more silence. This cunning and provocative Romanian film requires patience, but its rewards are many: It's hard to imagine how a scene in which a police captain barks an order to bring him a dictionary can be loaded with suspense, but, really, it is.
Forget the car chases; just watch as our hero flips the pages until he finds the definition for conscience. White-knuckle stuff.
Said protagonist is Cristi (Dragos Bucur), a young detective in Vaslui, a drab northeastern Romanian town that still bears the scars (and much of the architecture) of its Soviet past. Wearing the same sweater and jeans for days, not to mention the same impassive expression, he trails a schoolkid suspected of dealing hashish. His superiors want a sting operation, but Cristi is torn: Why ruin a kid's life (he could go to jail for seven years) for what is essentially a victimless crime?
Porumboiu's style is steady, observational, his camera tracking Cristi along the streets in much the way Cristi tracks his subject. There's a lot of stairway-climbing and hallway-walking, as Cristi navigates the police-HQ bureaucracy.
And two pivotal scenes don't sound like much, but they're wonderful: smart, funny, profound. In the first, Cristi and his wife (Irina Saulescu), a linguistics professor, debate the merits of a schmaltzy pop song and its imagery of seas and sunshine. He has no patience for its cliched metaphors; she sees the bigger meaning in its jaunty verse.
And the big payoff in Police, Adjective is Cristi's encounter with his boss, in which the detective refuses to follow orders and bring his suspect in.
It's a conversation about language and meaning. And about the absence of meaning, both in the words being said, and, perhaps, in the lives of the people speaking them.