by James Hansen
Police, Adjective - one of the major highlights at this year's New York Film Festival - opens in New York at IFC Center today. I wrote about the film in my round-ups of the festival, but I was also lucky enough to sit down with director Corneliu Porumboiu during the festival to discuss his approach in crafting this challenging film. The following is an edited conversation I had with Mr. Porumboiu on September 29, 2009 discussing the film, his cinematic influences, and, well, words.
James Hansen: How did the story come about?
Corneliu Porumboiu: There were two stories I heard that inspired me. One was about two brothers, one of whom betrayed the other in a small case about consuming hashish. The second story: I have a friend who is a police officer and he told me about case that he had where he decided he didn’t want to solve it because of his conscience.
JH: How much did the real events effect your stylistic choices for the film like the use of real-time during the police investigations?
CP: Doing research for the second draft of the script, I discovered that police officers have a lot of time - death time - waiting and surveilling. This was very important for me because it fits into the spirit that I wanted to give to the script and to the absurd tone of my movie. I take real time and it becomes an absurd time. The movie is about meaning and a policeman trying to get that sense in his world. The real time allowed me to construct that feeling.
JH: You mention the absurdist qualities of the film, which are infused with the realism. I wonder if this is what informs the comedy of both Police, Adjective and your earlier films?
CP: I think the comedy is really just coming with me. I don’t think before I make a movie as to whether it will be a comedy or something like that. It’s something that is in my point of view on life so it’s very natural.
JH: What your major influences were for this project?
CP: I had seen many police movies (policier) like All of Us, but for this particular movie I was influenced by Bresson’s Pickpocket and Antonioni’s Blow Up. Big parts of my movie are silent and the body language counts a lot. So, in the sense of both timing and atmosphere, I was thinking a lot about these two movies.
JH: Blow Up is an interesting choice since it is all about the dissection of an image, and in Police, Adjective it seems you invert the process by dissecting language. Can you talk about your approach to text and dialogue in the film and its relationship with the image, particularly in the final sequence and conversation with the dictionary?
CP: Blow Up is one of my favorite movies. I was thinking more about the technique in Blow Up for my first movie (12:08 East of Bucharest) in trying to define the revolution. In this case, when I was doing my research, I was seeing the daily reports from police officers. With these came the idea of representation that you can also see to some extent in Blow Up. You see what he’s doing everyday by what is written on the page. And it is just a representation of what happened that day. That was the first point when I started looking at language and words and what they really mean and what the express. You have this structure that repeats day after day after day, which is what leads into the final conversation.
JH: And that all leads into the final shot of the film, which I think is stunning. Can you talk about the idea behind the last shot and how it connects back to ideas of symbology, image, and text?
CP: As I mentioned before, it’s coming from those words and details and reports. They go into the word conscience and finally the word police. The drawing on the blackboard at the end gives you the absurd tone of the movie. Everything becomes a graphic. But I don’t believe so much in symbols. An image is dealing with an image. But it all goes back to the meaning of the words. And it’s a repetition leading to a certain kind of art. Plus, I prefer being a little cynical.
JH: Is your cynical approach to the search for answers and clarity in Police, Adjective related to your personal your views about Romania, whether before or after the revolution?
CP: For me personally, after the revolution, I was thinking all the changes would come the next day. I had quite a romantic point of view about it and life in general. Years after, I’ve become a more cynical. Maybe it’s the way things should be, but, for me, the expectations that I had were broken. For my research, I asked ten different friends to define the word conscience. There were so many different definitions! After that, I started to write and that was my idea in the end: what is in the back of these words? If it’s in a dictionary, I think it’s absurd, and that is the feeling I had writing and making this movie. What is the link to these words? What is the conscience of a society? It’s coming from this sentiment I have. The definitions [of conscience] were so different, but, at the same time, they express, as I feel, that in Romania we often don’t understand each other. The words are no use at the end.