Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Starring Toma Cuzin, Radu Banzaru, Florin Kevorkian, Dan Chiriac and Iulia Ciochina
Costi leads a peaceful life. At night he likes to read his 6-year-old son stories, to help him sleep. Their favourite is Robin Hood. Costi sees himself as the hero - righter of wrongs and defender of the oppressed. One evening, his neighbour pays him an unexpected visit and shares a secret: there's treasure buried in his grandparents' garden, he's sure of it. If Costi will hire a metal detector to help locate it, he'll give him half of whatever they get. Skeptical at first, in the end Costi can't resist. He's on board. The two accomplices have one weekend to locate the loot. Despite every obstacle in their path, Costi refuses to be discouraged. For his wife and son, he's a real hero - nothing and no one are going to stop him.
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★★★½ review by Michael Strenski on Letterboxd
Deadpanning for gold.
★★★½ review by SBT on Letterboxd
Of all the Romanian New Wave directors, Corneliu Porumboiu (Police Adjective, 12:03, East of Bucharest) has always been my favorite: his films are minimalist, but distant, rejecting observational realism and opting instead for a clean, geometrical sparseness and equally sparse stories that feel almost textualist in their obsession with laws, rules and definitions (Police, Adjective, for example, hinges on a lengthy conversation about Romanian lexicology). The Treasure, Porumboiu's latest won the Un Certain Regard prize this year in Cannes and appears to be both the ultimate distillation of Porumboiu's abstract realism and a dead end.
The Treasure reads, weirdly, like the kind of comedy Robert Bresson would have made - a philosophical parable about love and greed, featuring deliberately flat acting. The hero is Costi, a city hall clerk and family man who one day is approached by Adrian, a neighbor, with a cockamamie proposal: to go to Adrian's ancestral home in a village close to Bucharest and explore the garden with a metal detector in search of a fabled treasure Adrian's great-grandfather once hid from the Communists. If they find anything, they will split it, and Adrian gets some desperately needed money to pay off some hugely outstanding debts.
The Treasure's greatest quality is its total directness: more conventional narratives would have introduced a conflict between Adrian and Costi, perhaps some dramatic fisticuffs as the tension amps up and the two men dig a hilariously deepening hole in the garden. But Porumboiu keeps his actors flat and the affects even flatter: the loudest outburst belongs to Adrian, who gets into a barely articulated dispute with the guy they hired to man the metal detector over the irritating squeal of the machine. The story progresses in the least dramatic way possible, so much so, that its utter lack of surprise nearly registers as authorial indifference. It all feels like an urban legend without a twist.
None of this would necessarily be a bad thing, if the film wouldn't feel simultaneously sparse and overstuffed. Underneath the skeletal story lies a parable that tries to say something about Romanian history, the pressures of contemporary life, father/son dynamics, the critique of capitalism, and greed. Some of these comments land better than others: an extended scene filmed in Adrian's weed-choked garden is a marvel of tension and irritation, moving excruciatingly slow, but at the same time mapping the space as an archeology of Romania's recent past: layer upon layer of confusing detritus and abandoned projects. Stylistically, too, this is Porumboiu's most accomplished film: thanks to the great work of DP Tudor Mircea, the frames are minimally populated, but always colorful and warm: bold primary colors (reds and yellows) stand out against restful sea-green pastels. It's an effect that, like everything else in the movie establishes a deliberate distance between the spectator and the characters. Nonetheless, The Treasure puts out a deliberately laid-back, almost cozy vibe, so laid back in fact, that it ends on a weirdly trite note, offering a moral that aims for Bressonian territory but lands squarely in After School Special land.
★★★½ review by Daniel Nava on Letterboxd
"Dig up, stupid"
You have two films about predatory capitalism in Two Days, One Night and The Treasure. Yet if the Dardennes' film attempts to cajole a "pick yourself up by your bootstraps" mentality, then Porumboiu aspires for something far less noble, if not more true: acquire currency, maintain the hereditary monarchy.
★★★½ review by I. Flick on Letterboxd
"Are you coming back to work?"
★★★★ review by Laurence Barber on Letterboxd
Porumboiu as Romanian Seinfeld. Even the title works as an episode name. The way he unearths absurdity from mundanity is glorious.
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