Rightwing Film Geek

Corneliu Porumboiu agrees with Victor

Speaking in abstract generalities, I ascribe to the theory that artists aren’t the definitive interpreters of their work. I don’t go postmodern whole hog and thus say the text has no inherent meaning. I revert to a more pragmatic basis … artists are often expressing things they only half-understand; many are personally inarticulate; and some have intellectual reservations about stating matters explicitly and/or in the medium of written criticism. NEVERTHELESS … it is a huge personal coup to have an major artist whom you love agree with a critical theory that you have about one of his works, especially if it be the kind of Wack Idea that you’re semi-embarrassed by.

Many years ago, I wrote that Corneliu Porumboiu’s POLICE ADJECTIVE is a dramatization of Michel Foucault’s theories of power and knowledge. I articulate the theory at length here, in a capsule written a week after I saw it at the Toronto Film Festival in 2009.  In shorter form here, the film is about how discourse, what Foucault called power-knowledge, shapes the conscience, represses experience, and even turns experience into something usable for the purposes of power. (That all makes sense if you’ve read Foucault and/or seen POLICE, ADJECTIVE; if not, my apologies.)

VictorWithPorumboiuPorumboiu was at a screening at the National Gallery of Art earlier today of Adrian Sitaru’s THE FIXER, kicking off a Romanian series playing at NGA and AFI Silver over the next month (Romania’s ambassador was also in attendance and spoke at the start). After the Q-and-A, I went up to him and got this picture taken and asked him about my theory. In order to avoid the self-parodic-critic vice of making a lengthy boring speech, I asked him succinctly “I have a question about POLICE ADJECTIVE — have you read much Michel Foucault?” He said he had and nodded with a slight smile. I said, “I have a theory that I won’t bore you with in the details, but the film has struck me as cinematic Foucault because [what I wrote in the previous paragraph]. Am I full of crap?” He said, “not at all.” He then went on to say that he deliberately included the shots of the written police reports and their reading to emphasize them as the official record. Which was, within the limits of his English and everybody’s oral improvisation, basically what I wrote here:

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.

He even agreed to my replying that these readings go on too long for the purposes of “drama,” but are perfectly timed for the purpose they serve here. The two or three Romanians who heard this conversation seemed to agree also. As I said, I’d stand by my theory even if Porumboiu said “Michelle Who?” But this still feels like vindication.
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Despite the direct quote marks, all quotes are obviously reconstructed from memory sitting at a bar an hour later, waiting for UFC fights. Relatedly, this is the world’s only MMA gym T-shirt / Corneliu Porumboiu photo.

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May 13, 2017 Posted by | Corneliu Porumboiu | Leave a comment

The latest Romanian mast….zzzzzzz

High drama in the latest Romanian film -- two people eat dinner.

High drama in the latest Romanian film -- two people eat dinner.

I don’t think there’s any way around it. I saw POLICE, ADJECTIVE again last night and cannot even describe it in any way that doesn’t make it sound like a boring reductio ad absurdum of the slow, grind-you-down European art film. Very few plot points, all spun out way beyond their possible narrative interest, not much suspense or danger for a policier — you’re watching somebody perform a job that mostly consists of watching other people.

And yet, I liked POLICE, ADJECTIVE a lot, both on first and second viewing. Both when I didn’t know exactly what was coming and when I did. But I can’t defend the film against the flat claim (shut up, gemko) that “it’s boring.” Yes, it is, and not just in the tautological sense that any movie, even the most rock-em-sock-em action flick, is boring if it doesn’t engage you (the sense in which I would say NINE or FIGHTING are boring). POLICE, ADJECTIVE is boring in the sense that it’s not trying to entertain you or promise … heck, I just started to parrot the following sentence that Stanley Kauffmann composed in his rapturous first review of L’AVVENTURA.

The first 10 minutes make it clear that this is the work of a discerning, troubled, uniquely gifted artist who speaks to us through the refined center of his art. We make “like” this film, but those first 10 minutes indicate that liking is not the primary point. We “like” Maurice Chevalier but do we “like” Wozzeck or No Exit? If so, all the better, but we know from the start that it is irrelevant to their effective being.
This is not to say that L’Avventura is an unpleasant or uninteresting experience: simply that it does not come out of the wings like a chorus girl with a grin on her face to make a hit fast.

Kauffmann doesn’t use the word “boring,” but we all know what he’s getting at. And in that sense I can formulate an acknowledgement that POLICE, ADJECTIVE is “objectively boring” even though I personally found it gripping. It took me several repeat viewings to really feel like I was getting a grasp on Antonioni’s 60s films, though for a variety of reasons, in a way unlike how I’m pretty confident that I entirely got POLICE, ADJECTIVE on first view (I don’t have tremendously much to add to my Toronto capsule).

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January 22, 2010 Posted by | Corneliu Porumboiu, Viewership | Leave a comment