Rebekah’s bag o’ film

Police, Adjective Corneliu Porumboiu, 2009

An extraordinarily subtle and bone-dry black comedy examining personal morality, apathy, authoritarianism and entrenched bureaucracy in the grey waste of Vaslui, Romania. Detective Cristi (Dragos Bucur) is a weary veteran of undercover narcotics work who clashes with his direct superior over his reluctance to arrest a teenage hash-smoker whose life will essentially be destroyed as a result. This is not exactly a groundbreaking theme for a crime drama, but it is Porumboiu’s treatment of the subject matter that makes it worthwhile.

The film is paced in nearly geological time and unfolds with a bleak monotony that will almost certainly alienate the casual viewer. This same tedium however, claps the viewer into the heavy shackles of Cristi’s forcefully mundane existence and imparts both perspective and dark humor with rigorous intent. The camera follows him through the streets, his stakeouts, his meals and his atrophying interactions with his wife. Unlike your usual crime-drama, the antagonism throughout the film remains roiling beneath the surface and the final conflict culminates in a battle of words instead of guns. The subtlety and careful craft of this film suit it perfectly for home viewing where you won’t be distracted from the experience by sticky floors, stickier cell-phone etiquette and guys who thought they were see ing Iron Man.

Futoko (The Dark Harbor) Takatsugu Naito, 2009

Innumerable young directors have ambitiously tackled the funny/sad aesthetic and, unfortunately, generally landed at unwatchable schmaltz. Though Takatsugu Naito’s PIFF scholarship-winning film dangerously skirts the schmaltz-line, it manages to retain an earthy vulnerability that separates the piece from the rest of the romantic-dramady pap. Manzo (Shinya Kote) is a solitary, bearlike fisherman whose clumsy attempts to attract a lady (he wears a rose in his lapel when visiting the local pub in hopes that a woman will be enraptured) have proven fruitless. A video dating service gets the whole fishing community in an uproar and though the ensuing kerfuffle yields nothing for Manzo, he discovers a young woman and her son living clandestinely in his house. He allows them to stay in exchange for her “companionship” and the story unfolds from there.

The comedy in the film comes not only from the absurd Mentos-ad reminiscent montages of happiness, complete with freeze-frames (I’m not kidding), but also from the earnestly over-the-top performances that are closer to a silent-film era aesthetic than anything in modern cinema. The film stays grounded, exploring falsity, jealousy and perceived betrayal, but particularly through the casting of Manzo who seems an oddly realistic choice for a romantic lead and imparts a clumsy yet intense genuineness to the role. This is not the greatest opus ever placed in celluloid, but it is far and away a better choice for a night-in with ice cream and the cat than the unwatchable drivel normally littering this genre.