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Porumboiu, who won the 2006 Camera d'Or for his first film, 12:08 East of Bucharest, has confounded the sophomore jinx with an absurdist comedy that is even drier, deeper, and more closely observed than his estimable debut. Observation is the key word. Police, Adjective focuses almost entirely upon the banal details of a particular case: Three high school kids have been seen smoking hash. A young detective watches them, files reports on what he and we see, and decides that the crime is too minor an infraction to warrant prosecution and the severe punishment that the law demands.

Predicated on a series of routines and staged for maximum objectivity, Police, Adjective has something of the deadpan theatricality that characterized early Jim Jarmusch. But the movie is also a deadly serious analysis of bureaucratic procedure and, particularly (as presaged by the lengthy analysis of a pop song's lyrics and grammar put forth by the cop's schoolteacher wife), the tyranny of language.

Police, Adjective is the least violent movie I've seen at Cannes, but nothing has been more disturbing than its final scene, in which the cop's superior uses a dictionary and a blackboard to parse the meanings of "conscience" and "police." Images may record reality; words define it.

jhoberman@villagevoice.com

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