Saturday, February 13, 2010

PIFF Day 2

I plan to see 31 films at the film festival, and will attempt to blog them all. Every year I see several wonderful films, some of which don't get a theatrical release at all--so my hope is that you can put the ones that sound appealing in your Netflix queue and catch them when they are released on DVD.

Tonight I saw two films that are probably not for everyone. The first, a Romanian film called "Police, Adjective" (7.5), won two significant prizes at Cannes. I'll warn you that it is quite slow--it's a police procedural that is the absolute antithesis of all the CSI shows, in that it depicts just how monotonous actual police work really is. But its rewards are significant--in fact, the film really grew on me and I think I will stew on it for awhile. It's about a young detective who is assigned to perform surveillance on a high school student whose friend has snitched on him for selling drugs. Every day the detective watches the kid do absolutely nothing of note except smoke hashish with the so-called friend (whom the detective dubs"the Squealer" in his written reports) and a girl who apparently is the subject's girlfriend on whom the Squealer wishes to make a move. The detective becomes increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of going after this kid, which he knows his supervisor expects him to do. Why ruin the kid's life for casual use of small amounts of hashish, which isn't even prosecuted in most neighboring countries?

Watching the detective plod through his day is quietly, boringly amusing (really). He is subtly stubborn and subversive as he deals with his boss (mostly avoiding him) and his recalcitrant coworkers who can't be bothered to give him the assistance he needs to work the case. He trudges through days of surveillance wearing the same sweater and goes home to have desultory conversations with his wife, including an amusing one about a song that she finds metaphorically interesting and he finds utterly lacking in content. (I actually agreed with him.) I like A.O. Scott's description of he detective's rejection of his wife's defense of the metaphors in the song as "a hyperbolically blunt statement of an impulse that drives much recent Romanian cinema, away from metaphor and toward a concrete, illusion-free reckoning with things as they are."

The climactic scene between the detective and his boss actually involves a surprisingly suspenseful session of dictionary reading occasioned by the tension between the detective's conscience and his duty as perceived by his superiors. The similarities to my own job and its occasional sense of disconnection from the moral and practical dilemmas that underlie the legal problems we are called upon to address made me laugh aloud, since often a dictionary is involved in my world, too. At least the lawyers among you may appreciate this one.

"The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo" (5) probably has more audience appeal--in fact, it was nominated for an audience award at the European Film Awards. It's an effective potboiler that has had huge box office grosses in Sweden and is based on a really popular crime novel that a large number of people in the audience I was in had read. It's got high production values and interesting lead performances--and a lot of sexual violence. So, if you like that sort of thing, it's a good little thriller with absolutely nothing significant to say. It will play again at the festival on Sunday night and then will come to Cinema 21 in April.

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