Toronto capsules — day 10
(FOR NOW, rather than post nothing until I can get the last few capsules finished, and holding off on other stuff until I do … I’m gonna post the one capsule I have done and update both this post and add a top post linking here when the other four movies get done.)
POLICE, ADJECTIVE (Corneliu Porumboiu, Romania, 8)
I’ve frequently said that if Friedrich Nietzsche could ever have seen Kubrick’s 2001 and A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, I am convinced he would have cried out — “there is my philosophy on film.” Similarly, if his acolyte Michel Foucault could have seen POLICE, ADJECTIVE, he would have had the same reaction. And there is no question that, even if I’m wrong about the specific influence, POLICE is intended to be seen and understood as philosophical discourse (cue Mike’s hissing). The bravura last scene, which radically recodes everything that had gone before, makes at least a rationale for what I acknowledge are the film longueurs. That scene takes the form of a Platonic dialogue, only here, the role of Socrates is played by Vlad Ivanov, back to playing someone as utterly pragmatic as he did in 4 MONTHS. But this dialogue is not primarily about the search for wisdom (or even “language,” per se) but more on that anon.
POLICE, ADJECTIVE centers on a working-class undercover drug cop named Christi investigating what may be a hashish ring involving some high-school students, who seem to be Romanian bourgeoisie. But he’s not seeing more than personal use, which he doesn’t think is really worth busting a couple of teenagers over and marking them for life with a lengthy jail term. Though it takes the form of a “policier,” these parts of the film are extremely slow-paced and action-free — entirely observing and following, with basically no confrontation or even much talk. I got a little frustrated at times, but POLICE, ADJECTIVE is ultimately a film about how discourse (what Foucault called power-knowledge) represses experience and shapes what an individual sees as his conscience. And so the pacing of the previous scenes have to “deliver the goods” to us in something more like “real time,” i.e., in the form that Christi experiences, rather than in the conventions of theatrical time, which is closer to “discourse.”
Besides the observational sequences, the film also has several scenes that drop hints the relationship(s) among discourse, words and power is the ultimate topic. The very first scene involves Christi refusing to let a fellow cop on the “foot tennis” team because “it’s a rule” that if you’re no good at soccer, you stink at foot tennis, to which the colleague responds “where’s that written?” In addition, Christi’s new wife is a grammar teacher who sometimes corrects his usage (“it’s what the Romanian Academy says,” she explains). And she also repeatedly listens to a song Christi doesn’t like, and Poromboiu plays it all the way through while the camera watches him eat dinner in the next room, and then restarts it. Christi complains that the song’s lyrics make no sense, an example of his taking a form of discourse (art) at its most literal.¹ Also, Porumboiu fills up the screen two or three times with pages from Christi’s police report and reads them aloud. The scenes feel inert as they impart no information we haven’t seen, and they also feel reductive and bureaucratically plain. But that’s their function in POLICE, ADJECTIVE: to replace the experience we’ve had with an official discourse about it that will become the basis of everything that follows. In that last scene, Christi refuses to set up a sting, saying his conscience won’t let him. And the Socratic debate, which centers on the meaning of words, commences. The effects of words are extended to the logic of images, in the film’s very last shot, a coda of sorts about what will happen next, and which we never see (credit to Tweep James Hansen for spelling it out in exchanges with me, though I did get it).
As should be obvious, my love with POLICE, ADJECTIVE is intellectual and retrospective, and I’ve acknowledged sometimes getting a bit impatient with it as it unfolded. “There’s too many shots of him eating soup,” my notes say at one point. Porumboiu’s first film, 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST, also had trouble with me early, though more as a not-terribly funny comedy than for slackly-paced emptiness, until (also like POLICE, ADJECTIVE) it became essentially a one-room talking scene, there a Romanian TV talk-show that would give Alan Partridge nightmares. I’ll need to give POLICE, ADJECTIVE a second view to see if knowing everything makes the buildup less tedious. But for now, after having discussed the film, argued on Twitter, reread my notes, and written this review, my memories of POLICE, ADJECTIVE are entirely pleasurable. Oh, wait …
¹ I forget the specifics, but Christi basically does the equivalent of taking a line like “my love is like a red, red rose” and saying, “how? Does it have thorns or petals, does it give off a scent, what’s ‘red’ about it?” Which (1) couldn’t more miss the point on artistic discourse, and (2) sets up the understanding of language that will be used against him later.
AIR DOLL (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 7)
HADEWIJCH (Bruno Dumont, France, 9)
ENTER THE VOID (Gaspar Noe, France, 4 — though really an 8 for style and 0 for content)
ONG BAK 2: THE BEGINNING (Tony Jaa and Panna Rittikrai, Thailand, 5)