Dubiously selected as Azerbaijan's official submission for the Best Foreign Film category of the 83rd Academy Awards, The Precinct is a well-intentioned but bizarre attempt to combine magic realism with mysticism from former documentarian turned feature filmmaker Ilgar Safat.
Excruciatingly misguided from conception to final cut -- when you take into consideration that Safat's work was inspired by a dream that he freely admits was influenced by The Doors songs and his interest in shamanism, it's easy to anticipate that subtlety will not be his strong suit.
And sure enough The Precinct suffers from a pretentious set-up that's incredibly easy to see right through, despite the fact that the filmmaker was obviously hoping to keep us guessing as to whether or not his characters have wound up in a police station or some sort of spiritual purgatory following a car accident.
Yet unfortunately, because it's so obvious to figure out that what we're watching is in essence a morality tale that seems to take place on Jim Morrison's “Crystal Ship” rather than an actual precinct, Safat's tale may have worked better as a short story or a 12-bar-blues Doors inspired rock song. For in this medium, we find ourselves losing interest rather quickly, which ensures that the 116 minute film feels twice as long.
Far more tragically, by waiting an infinitely long time to lead us into an extended flashback about the obligatorily traumatic and definitive coming-of-spiritual-age turning point in the life of our unlikable main character, Safat fails to interest us in the fate of our protagonists.
Moreover, because his documentary background easily lends itself to the flashback, we wonder why he just didn't ditch the shaman scene altogether since he's noticeably better suited to tackling the harsher realities of fallen heroes in youth instead of attempting to take us on a trippy New Age adventure.
Similarly, the style on display in the admittedly predictable yet compelling look at the past contrasted with Safat's unspooling of current events makes The Precinct feel as though two totally different movies were just slapped together to comprise an odd blend of reality and fantasy coupled with a nonexistent spiritual mystery.
Cinematically, The Precinct is all over the place. While the contemporary narrative appears as though it's influenced by Film Noir, there's a little bit of Bergman and Fellini on display as well when we move back in time.
Likewise, it's obvious that Safat is highly film literate since he tried to casually insert references to the Lumière Brothers into his otherwise wooden dialogue to perhaps “posh” up and compete with European films on a name-dropping, referential level.
Yet in this regard along with all others, The Precinct goes out of its way to remind you of its purported importance and its philosophical ambitions from start to finish, as opposed to actually bothering to ask whether or not this is a story worth telling, how to effectively to reach that goal and why viewers should care in the first place.
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FTC Disclosure: Per standard professional practice, I received a review copy of this title in order to evaluate it for my readers, which had no impact whatsoever on whether or not it received a favorable or unfavorable critique.