After I saw 2007's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days—a stark, depressing, nerve-jangling thriller about two women in hot pursuit of an illegal abortion in 1980s Romania—I left the theater thinking, "Man, Romania is a shithole!" (By the way, I had to see that film by myself because none of my friends wanted to join me when I asked them, "Do you want to go see that Romanian abortion movie?" Apparently, the words "Romanian abortion movie" are a turnoff.)
But I was of course willing to give modern-day Romania the benefit of the doubt. Surely, things have changed—politically, socially, economically—since the 80s, right?
Well, I just saw Police, Adjective, a new police drama set in contemporary Romania that won the Jury Prize at Cannes last year and that critics have been creaming their pants over (95% from Top Critics on Rotten Tomatoes), and I left the theater thinking, once again, "Man, Romania is a shithole!"
Before I expound further on Romania, I should say a few things about Police, Adjective. If you took out all the parts of the movie where nothing interesting happens, the film would be mmmmmaybe 30 minutes long. Seriously. The remaining hour and a half of footage consists of a cop walking a lot, standing a lot, sitting a lot, and eating soup. Seriously. There's a whole scene dedicated to him serving himself soup and bread and then eating all of it. That's all that happens in that scene. There's another scene that features a five-minute long static shot of the cop sitting and waiting to be called into his boss's office, while the receptionist types. Five minutes. The camera doesn't move. Seriously. The most exciting thing that occurs in the entire movie is the climax. What happens during the climax?
[BEGIN POSSIBLE SPOILER.]
The cop spends five minutes reading entries from a dictionary out loud. Seriously.
[END POSSIBLE SPOILER.]
The reason I wanted to see Police, Adjective in the first place is because I thought the title was intriguing and I thought it was supposed to explore the ambiguity of language. Plus, since the film was definitely not a "Romanian abortion movie," I knew that the climax of the film wouldn't be a lingering shot of a dead fetus. (Yes, that's a 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days spoiler, but I don't give a crap.)
But Police, Adjective's observations about the gray areas of language (which, you see, reflect the gray areas of police duty, personal morality, and conscience) don't warrant two hours of exploration, especially in the simply boring way the movie is executed. I mean, sure, I get that the film also wants to show you the very real tedium of police work, but it's possible to show the tedium of police work without being tedious. 2007's Zodiac is about the tedium of police work, but that movie is riveting.
But enough about Police, Adjective. I want to talk about Romania. Is it really the shithole that Romanian Cinema seems to suggest it is?
The Romanian Tourism Board, if there is such a thing, should be outraged that two of the most visible Romanian movies in the past couple years paint the country as a bleak, rundown Eastern European hell. And, look, I don't need to hear about how the communist regime in Romania was one of the last to fall in Eastern Europe and how the country is just trying to find its footing. That has no bearing on the fact that I think Romania is a shithole, and I would never want to visit. I want to be wrong. I really do.
Has anybody reading this ever been to Romania? Is it a shithole? And, look, I don't want to hear about how there's one city in Romania on the coast that's beautiful and lush. What about the country as a whole?
Are there any Romanians reading this? Care to jump to your country's defense? Or do you hate it and want to get out? I checked my Google Analytics, and last year this blog received a remarkable (considering) 344 hits from Romania! (Five of those hits are from the town of Vaslui, where Police, Adjective is set!) I know some of you are reading! I want to love your country! I really do! Make me love your country! And demand that your filmmakers start pumping out hilarious Romanian comedies! (Um...wait a minute...Police, Adjective IS a comedy? Seriously?)
Maybe Romanian-born NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu can clear things up for me? Mr. Codrescu, is Romania a shithole?! And was that Romanian abortion movie a comedy too?!
[Read the amazing follow-up to this post: "Romanian Karma; or: How I Became an Authority on South East European Cinema in a Matter of Days."]
[Update 03.09.17: I recently launched a new website to promote Thai movies. Perhaps the Romanian film industry can use it as a model? Also, there are Thai movies that double as travel brochures. Perhaps Romanian filmmakers can find inspiration in this?]