Close up: Corneliu Porumboiu
The director of anti-procedural thriller 'Police, Adjective' talks about this fine addition to the Romanian 'new wave'
Corneliu Porumboiu, 35, whose new film ‘Police, Adjective’ opens this week, is a Romanian filmmaker whose award-winning short films brought him to the attention of the Cinefondation Cannes Residency, where he developed his first feature, ‘12:08 East of Bucharest’, and later won the festival’s Camera d’Or in 2006 with the finished film. ‘Police, Adjective’ is his second film and took top prize in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes in 2009.
In ‘Police, Adjective’ a couple engage in a lengthy debate over pop lyrics and a police officer argues about morality using a dictionary. Where does this obsession with words come from?
‘Well, it’s the filmmaker’s job to find the precise words in precise situations, but maybe it’s a reaction against the communist era when we had what I’d call this “wooden” language, an official terminology which you feared. Maybe the fact that my mother teaches Romanian has an influence too.’
The title hints at terms like ‘police state’. Is the idea that although this detective story is set after communism, there’s a mindset within the force which hasn’t moved on?
‘The movies I’ve made are about people in transition. I’m like that too. My generation all thought that it would all change, Romania would be like the United States – the opposite of Russia! Then we discover that it doesn’t quite happen like that… But all over the world, you have people in positions of authority who want to be God. Who want to possess, to police. Hopefully, audiences outside of Romania can engage with that idea.’
It’s a story about a provincial cop having qualms about busting a kid over something as minor as a bit of weed – was it based on a real case?
‘A friend of mine did tell me a story about a policeman having a crisis of conscience, but in the film I wanted to play that idea against his job. The stuff that cop movies usually leave out is the daily grind of detective work, so I tried to focus on a guy doing this surveillance day after day and how that could change someone. I think routine gives you a certitude about life, it shapes your way of thinking. Some people need that.’
At the same time, the pensive mood of the film, and the sense of a man faced with a reality slipping through his fingers, reminded me of ‘Blow-Up’…
‘It’s one of my favourites. That and Bresson’s “Pickpocket”. Maybe I chose this subject because I love those two movies too much. It’s the body language, the way the actors situate themselves in time. The loneliness. So the young cop here is trying to reduce everything to a formula in these daily reports he writes, which gives a sort of double perspective on the distance between his words and reality, his words and the truth.’
His investigation unfolds in a series of challengingly long takes. Was the idea to provoke the audience?
‘For me the strength of cinema is the way it can show being in time. The time in which the story plays out is perhaps more important than the story itself. The only way I could approach this character was to show the time he takes over surveillance. Of course, there’s humour too, because it shows the absurdity of his life and job.’
What’s been the response at home to the success outside Romania of yourself and a whole group of current Romanian directors like Cristian Mungiu (‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’) and Cristi Puiu (‘Aurora’)?
‘Lets just say there’s a tradition in Romanian culture where you have to get recognised abroad before they take any notice of you at home. What worries me is that there’s nothing being done to nurture the next generation, but I suppose when a country’s got so many other problems it’s difficult to cry about state support for the film industry.'
Read our review of ‘Police, Adjective’
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