The glamorous side of what film scribes have been calling the "new wave" in Romanian cinema is a string of prestigious prizes at the Cannes festival.
A year after Christi Puiu's The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (2005) took home the Un Certain Regard award, Corneliu Porumboiu won the Caméra d'or for best debut feature for his droll ensemble piece 12:08 East of Bucharest, in which a group of characters in Vaslui debate whether their small city actually played a part in Romania's 1989 revolution.
The next year, as his countrymen Cristian Mungiu ( 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) and the late Cristian Nemescu ( California Dreamin') continued the Cannes winning streak, Porumboiu began work on a police procedural film. It would turn out to be as far from the stories regularly dished out for the small and big screen as Bucharest is from Hollywood.
Police, Adjective - last year's jury winner of Cannes' Un Certain Regard and Romania's official foreign-language Oscar entry - follows the dreary daily grind of Cristi (Dragos Bucur), a small-town undercover cop conducting surveillance on a teenager to locate and bust his drug supplier. The deceptively simple progression of deftly written set pieces builds to the cop's riveting confrontation with his boss revolving around the definition of "conscience."
During a conversation over coffee at Toronto's International Film Festival in September, Porumboiu, 35, discusses the decidedly unglamorous world of his latest film - which opens in Toronto this Friday - and how he fed his interest in film from a small town in Romania.
Police, Adjective is so closely observed. It is based on real events?
My starting point was a story I heard from friend who is a cop, who had a serious crisis of conscience at one point related to a small case. Movies about police are usually about big cases - and [laughing]someone has to die. So I was very touched by this little story.
The other story I heard was about a man who betrayed his brother. It was the same situation as in my movie - in a small town, with a drug history. They caught him and he betrayed his brother. It was like Cain and Abel.
As I was researching during the writing, I discovered this kind of sickness of silence. I became interested in this visual idea of following the follower, so that the real-time experience of it starts to feel absurd.
Even though we realize early on the cop has doubts about continuing the case, we watch him write out detailed reports. Are you obsessed with words?
The reports and the decision to shoot them are very important. I've seen real reports, and I think, after a while, a cop can start actually thinking the way they are written. Every conversation in the film has something to do with language and words and what is behind words. I love to write dialogue and am very precise and even obsessed about it.
This film has the most realistic foot pursuit I've ever seen - in most films the cop always seems way too close. What kind of preparation did actor Dragos Bucur do for the role?
He stayed with my police officer friend. The body language and the psychology are so important. These are guys who don't want to be noticed. There are rules of survival.
Both your films are set in your hometown of Vaslui. Did your interest in becoming a filmmaker start there?
When I was growing up you could only see Romanian cinema so I saw a lot of black market movies. I had a VCR so people would come to my house. One summer vacation I saw two movies every day. Even though they were mostly B movies, I remember these times because I learned so much about structure - you know, [laughing]now the guy has to sleep with the girl and now here comes a fight. Police, Adjective opens in Toronto on Friday, in Vancouver on Jan. 29 and Edmonton on Feb. 19.
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