The superb Romanian film Police, Adjective () is a “police procedural” with a difference: the policeman hero refuses to proceed. He cries off a petty drug-crime case, pleading reason and compassion, but is then backed into a corner by his chief, wielding reason and authority. Put another way, it’s a showdown between the Ceausescu Old Testament, backed by sage or cynical intelligence, and the freedom-and-democracy New Testament, backed only by weaponless decency.
Writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu made that dissident gem, 12:08 East of Bucharest. For an hour here we seem to be watching something similar, a cinema of the gentle-absurd. Seriocomical scenes of inaction unspool in the small town where Cristi (Dragos Bucur), the young detective, is stalking and staking out a group of drug offenders. One extended vigil near a roadworks dig has Cristi answering a quizzical shopkeeper with “I’m watching the hole”.
Then the movie takes a bold turn – it becomes more stationary. Visually the long climactic conversation in the police boss’s office between the boss and Cristi, arguing to ditch the case with “I don’t want to ruin someone’s life for a law that will change soon”, is shot in a single motionless take. Aurally the conversation scene is a witty, brilliantly mischievous play-off of ideas about “law”, “duty” and “conscience”. The masterstroke is the boss’s summoning of a dictionary to outmanoeuvre his junior. Words become the new weaponry (prefigured in a droll early scene of Cristi arguing with his wife about a pop song’s lyrics).
Since the police chief is played by Vlad Ivanov, the scary abortionist in 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days, this “static” scene hums with static. At Cannes the audience was purring with delight; partly at a cop movie that outwits every cop-movie expectation, partly because the devil of Draconianism gets the best arguments and we, the liberal-hearted viewers, feel as stretched, racked, tested and challenged as the lovably forlorn hero.
For contrast, try Made in Dagenham (). Who said, “History is bunk”? Wasn’t it Henry Ford? How apt. In the machinists’ room at Ford, Dagenham, in 1968, everyone behaves as if on the verge of a musical. They mug and ham and wink in this truth-based Britcom directed by Nigel Calendar Girls Cole. Only Sally Happy-Go-Lucky Hawkins (pictured) seems a human being, playing the young worker pushed into leading the women’s strike for equal pay, the one that got up the Labour government’s nose under Harold Wilson (John Sessions).
Maybe it should have been a musical. That jolly, wall-to-wall score. Bob Hoskins as a shop steward doing his vaudeville cockney. All those corny establishing shots, including the Houses of Parliament complete with Big Ben “bong” when we cut to Miranda Richardson, who seems to be channelling Gracie Fields as Barbara Castle, Labour employment secretary. Another establishing shot, fuzzy with stock-footage antiquity, depicts an American street – Anyoldstreet, USA – when we cut to Detroit for the transatlantic angle, which consists of Richard West Wing Schiff screaming down the phone.
Songs and dances would at least have shown there was a campy self-awareness to the caricatural picture of Britain’s past. The overbearing male bosses; the larky ladies “manning” the lockout; the MC-pig hubbies who want their shirts washed and meals cooked and Just Don’t Get It industrial-action-wise. The strike not only succeeded; it soon (we are told) spread equal-pay legislation around the world. The movie spreads equal quantities of pained bemusement around the theatre, its earnest cheer certain to hit you in the eye wherever you sit.
If you want a real film about women changing history, try the documentary Budrus (). The wives and daughters of a West Bank village take their place in the front line of the peaceful demonstrations staged daily against Israeli bulldozers. The machines are razing their olive orchards to build the partition wall.
There are songs here. Tuneful Palestinian rallying ditties, whose charm, in one sneaky cutaway, proves itself in the sight of an Israeli soldier surreptitiously bopping along. The villagers won: the wall was moved back. The victory matters less, on screen, than the humane, idiomatic diary of a campaign that never strove for noise or grandiloquence, let alone violence. It merely presented a community’s united face, and united voice, as the best poster for a way of life it wanted preserved and honoured.
To the northwest, in Kurdish Iraq, another film team prowls another village. The First Movie (), by critic and documentarist Mark Cousins, shows local children receiving their first experience of cinema. War-battered tots and strife-torn teens marvel at magic realism on screen – they have had plenty of the second, but none of the first – and receive digital cameras to make their own mini-movies. It would be more touching without Cousins’ commentary. That prolix, fastidious Northern Irish overvoice micromanages every moment, dictating every emotional response, providing every insight. We want to say, “Oh give us a break, Mark. Can’t we have one spontaneous perception of our own?”
It’s a bumper, even bumper-to-bumper, season for documentaries. Collapse
() takes us to a room in the US, where for 80 minutes we are hectored by a prophet of “peak oil”. Michael Ruppert, former LA cop, CIA whistleblower and investigative journalist, has no obvious credentials for lecturing the world about fossil fuel crisis. But my, how filmmakers – in this case Chris Smith (American Movie, The Yes Men) – love self-appointed saviours rich on rhetoric, if sometimes a little loopy in the ideas beneath.
Now articulate, now angry, one time weeping, Ruppert is bearish about energy depletion, bearish about its consequences. This straight-to-camera talkfest is distributed in Britain by Dogwoof, which specialises in barking angrily at the pro-oil lobby. Ruppert is pro-oil, but is allowed his inveighings of epiphanic despair. Self-redeemingly, he ends by proposing we each find a patch of the world to tend as our garden. Give him his due: he is the Voltaire of the eco-crisis age.
Buried () is the latest jeopardy-in-a-limited-space movie. Last week, three youngsters were trapped on a ski-lift. Earlier this year, Israeli soldiers were stuck in a tank throughout Lebanon. Now Ryan Reynolds is in a coffin for 90 minutes. By good fortune he has a lighter, a mobile, a pen (for writing phone numbers on the inside woodwork) and several other pieces of useful equipment cited in the Boy Scouts’ Book of Being Stuck in a Coffin.
Plausibility sits cowed in a corner. It says, “Don’t look at me. I have nothing to do with this”. Wouldn’t the lighter consume oxygen? Wouldn’t the mobile have signal problems? Wouldn’t . . . Stop asking questions and enjoy the ride. Reynolds is very good as the US contractor in Iraq captured and entombed by insurgents. Can he get word to the world? Will the world listen? The memorable moments are the snake, the bomb-quake, and the choicest of the telephone exchanges. FBI voice: “We need to keep the situation contained”. Reynolds: “I’m in a coffin! I think the situation’s pretty contained! . . . ”