The Precinct is Azerbaijan’s proposed nominee for this year’s Best Foreign Film Oscar. It’s a film concerned with what persists in our memory and the way that people use photography as a means of immortality, both of people and ideas. There’s a certain amount of irony there, discussing the use of photography as an ultimate form of preservation through the medium of film.
It’s an interesting idea that The Precinct has at its core, but the execution is sadly lacking, thanks to a trite series of events with all of the plodding pacing of a death march. Check out my full review below the cut.
Garib (Zaza Bejashvili) is a famous erotic photographer engaged to fellow artist Sabina (Melissa Papel). Their engagement has gone on for far too long, and the relationship is strained, to say the least. During a drive out to the countryside, where Garib goes to find inspiration, the two are involved in a car crash and are brought to a strange police precinct, where the police chief (Vagif Ibrahmiglu) has impossible knowledge of Garib’s past. The film takes us on a journey through one of the pivotal moments in Garib’s life, where he must come to terms with his feelings towards women or risk being lost forever.
It’s not exactly an original plot, a man being forced to overcome his past experiences in order to become a better person, and I can’t think of many films that have gone down this path as poorly as The Precinct. There is precious little the film manages to do right, let alone competently. One thing I can say, with absolute certainty, is the cinematography is rather wonderful. In the scenes within the titular precinct, which are mysterious in content and confusing in tone, there are a lot of dark tones and shadows on display, bringing to mind classic film noir photography. It offers a stark contrast to the flashback sequence, which has a certain innocent desperation about it that gels fantastically with the subject matter on screen.
Unfortunately, looks are about all The Precinct has going for it. It’s difficult to explain precisely where the film goes wrong, so I have to use the broad strokes and say, “Close to everywhere.” The script reads like something out of a freshman playwriting class. The largest chunk of the movie is set in the single-room police precinct, which characters going in and out of the room, piping in their say on whatever is happening, then going back to whatever background tasks they were busying themselves with. The effect is akin to watching a man drag a dead cow. You know exactly where it’s all going, but it’s going to take the better part of the day to get there.
When the film breaks out of the precinct and into the flashback of young Garib’s earliest days with photography, the pacing manages to pick up, mostly because there is actual action on screen as opposed to dialogue and light and shadow. That said, even his section is plagued by characters that might have more depth if they were drawn in crayon. By the time the climactic sequences that really show how Garib grew to loath women so, it becomes difficult to pay attention to the barely-shocking subject manner on screen. When it’s all over, the film, as if searching itself for an endpoint, falls back on a pair of twist endings that are both evident within the first twenty minutes of film and completely trite and poorly-executed.
The film’s aforementioned central ideas about memory and the immortality of photography are certainly interesting ones, but the film can barely bring itself to acknowledge them, offering instead a short speech from Garib’s photography teacher explaining the themes, practically shouting them to the cheap seats even. It comes across as a missed opportunity, like the screenwriter finally realized what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t go back and add anything into previous scenes
The Precinct deserves credit for going at a big idea head-on. Despite all the gorgeous cinematography going on, the rest of the film shatters any competency through dull, ham-handed filmmaking.