Tag: dragos bucur

Police, Adjective

Police, Adjective (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

Corneliu Porumboiu’s “Police, Adjective” is a piece of work that will fascinate audiences who are looking for projects outside of the expectations of what a film should be like. It takes risks by challenging viewers to look away from the screen or walk away for a few seconds—or several minutes even—since there are numerous extended shots where nothing happens. But those who dare to stay and stare at every frame are bound to realize that this technique communicates how actual police work might be like: long hours of observing persons of interest, dealing with difficult people within a department, ensuring the paperwork is thorough and accurate. It takes a look at an occupation without the Hollywood decorations.

But the question is always, “What makes this story worth telling?” It isn’t just about police work, you see. It is an examination of power and authority. The plot involves a detective, Cristi (Dragos Bucur), who is surveilling three teenagers who smoke hashish within school grounds. Cristi’s superior suspects that one of them is a dealer and recommends that a sting operation be performed as soon as possible despite a lack of strong evidence. But Cristi is not convinced this is the wisest and most responsible course of action, especially since it is expected that Romanian laws will become more lenient toward drug use in the near future. Cristi argues that by arresting a teenager, it would irrevocably alter the boy’s life. The story is worth telling precisely because we are placed in the shoes of a man who wishes to do what’s right for the citizens he is supposed to protect rather than what is convenient.

The majority of the film is composed of observation. In a way, we are detectives alongside Cristi as he observes where the teenagers go, what they do, who they interact with. This means lengthy takes of focusing on a particular place. We grow familiar with the environment: the random passersby, the noises of animals and chattering around the neighborhood, the worn roads and graffiti-infested buildings. At times the camera moves to a different angle as it retains focus on a certain location. Sometimes the camera does not move at all. At the end of each day, we glance at Cristi’s handwritten report. It is a chance not only to evaluate his level of accuracy and professionalism, but it is also a way for us to catch up on what we missed that day if we just so happen to doze off.

I do not mean to create an impression that the film is boring or tedious. On the contrary, when dialogue is involved, it is quite riveting and occasionally amusing. For example, observe carefully how Cristi interacts with his wife (Irina Saulescu), how they discuss lyrics of a song and new grammatical rules. On the surface, one may think it is a loveless union because they do not express outward or obvious passion toward one another. But look closer. There is patience in their relationship, an openness, an impression that they see each other equally. Devotion is communicated in a different way and I found it refreshing.

Another standout is Cristi’s unforgettable interaction with his captain (Vlad Ivanov). And it involves a dictionary. It summarizes perfectly what the story is about. Yes, on one level, it is about the clash between adhering to strict rules and regulations (traditionalism) versus allowing flexibility to influence and perhaps change current laws (progressivism). But it is also about language—language in the words, in the images, and in the long pauses. I go as far as to say that these languages, collectively, aim to speak to our emotions and what we know about how the world works versus how it should work. “Police, Adjective,” a rich film despite its demanding approach, a depressing look, and seemingly nondescript goings-on.

The Way Back

The Way Back (2010)
★★ / ★★★★

Janusz (Jim Sturgess) was suspected of being a spy against the Russian government during World War II but there was a lack of evidence against him. When his wife was captured and tortured, she felt she had no other choice but to tell lies in order to survive. As a result, Janusz was sent to a Siberian labor camp for twenty years. Inside, he met seven others (Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Potocean, Mark Strong, Sebastian Urzendowsky, Gustaf Skarsgård) who where willing to escape and traverse thousands of miles through Siberia, the Gobi Desert, and the Himalayas. Based on the book “The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom” by Slavomir Rawicz, there was no denying that what the POW had been through was unimaginable, but I wasn’t convinced that the film matched the greatness of the material they had a chance to work with. It was expected that Sturgess, Harris, and Farrell’s characters were given a solid amount of screen time. We learned about where they came from and what was important to them. However, I kept wondering about the other men. Since the spotlight was rarely on them, we only knew them through surface characteristics. For instance, the tall one liked to cook and draw, the young one had night blindness, the other was a comedian. It may sound disrespectful but such is a consequence of filmmakers focusing on which celebrities ought to receive more screen time than others instead of focusing on the drive of each man. Given that it was over two hours long, there was no excuse for a lack of character development. Furthermore, as a whole, the entire journey felt depressing instead of inspiring. While not all of them made it to the very end, I believe what should have been highlighted was their bravery by standing up against a government that wrongly accused them of crimes and taking their lives to survive in the wilderness. The only time when I felt the movie had some sort of pulse was when the runaways met the young Irena (Saoirse Ronan). Ronan’s acting was dynamic. The way her body language and facial expressions changed from one emotion to the next, especially while interacting with the veteran Harris, felt effortless and I quickly became enthralled and fascinated by Irena. But the picture, inevitably, had to go back to the long walk to India. I was consistently disappointed due to its lack of attention in truly immersing our senses with each environment. Instead of taking the meditative path and not merely relying on music to nudge us that what we were seeing was visually majestic, it treated the disparate environs as cheap obstacles. I might as well have been playing “Super Mario” on Wii and it would have been far more engaging. Once the obstacle had been surmounted, it was onto the next challenge and the next death. Directed by Peter Weir, the manner in which “The Way Back” unfolded felt like the its characters were walking in circles. Considering its story involved a great journey across the world, it ended up going nowhere.