It is hard to recall or imagine a more problematic film to review. Many reviews have been thoroughly positive in their assessment of the artistic merits of this quietly uneventful, yet thematically forceful film. It is doubtless difficult to persuade a generation of film-viewers raised on the bombastic and fast-editing styles of Cameron, Bay and their like that a film containing 15 minute-long sequences of no dialogue as a man follows a teenager down grey, featureless streets has something to say. Heck, I’m having trouble convincing myself that it was worth watching.
The title of the film and many of its more dialogue-heavy scenes state that words and their meanings matter. Cristi debates with his partner whether the words to the song to which she is listening really mean anything, she corrects a word in his report for his boss, explaining that it is a “negative pronominal adjective”, he is told by his boss to sit there and read out definitions for moral, law and conscience from the dictionary, as they debate whether the sting operation should go ahead, whether Cristi’s moral qualms are mis-placed, or even relevant to his job.
Essentially, Cristi’s boss has a point. Cristi cannot be the arbiter of whether any given law is right or just and cannot refuse or accept orders from a superior on the basis of whether the law might, or indeed should, change or whether he feels like obeying. He is not a law-maker, he is a law-enforcer, another important linguistic distinction that the film considers. The difficulty here is that the considerable philosophical merits of the film risk being missed because of how resolutely, even perversely inaccessible it can be. The director (and screenwriter) Corneliu Porumboiu, as he spells out in the candid and informative interview that accompanies the film on DVD, is not interested in adhering to preconceived notions as to pacing, narrative and action beats that can tend to be de rigueur for crime films and police procedurals. He recognises that many will not wish to or be able to engage with his style, but is determined to persevere with it as his chosen approach, hoping to pick up a few devoted followers along the way. He certainly comes across as admirably conscientious and ideological in his approach to film-making, though it may mean that few stick with him.
It is difficult therefore, to decide how to approach recommending (or not) this film. For some, the magic words “uneventful Romanian police procedural” will have you running for the hills, others will be intrigued by the film’s detailed and worthwhile examination of the value of linguistic exactitude. If nothing else, it can certainly be said to be an honest and unflinching portrayal of how uneventful and dispiriting it can be to follow a suspect, file a report and butt heads with a superior over whether or not to pursue an arrest and prosecution for a potentially very petty offence.
I suspect that most will either love or hate this and although I found it very hard going and have no desire to watch it ever agin, I cannot deny that there will be many for whom this will be engaging and worthwhile. For those who fancy it, you can get it from LoveFilm here. All of that makes the star rating bit a little tricky, but here goes.
Extras: As mentioned above, an informative interview with the director. A trailer rounds out the package.