Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2015 8:27 pm 
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Digging, finally finding and then (partly) giving away

In the Romanian director Cornelieu Porumboliu's deadpan new film, Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), who's lost his publishing business and is badly behind in his mortgage payments, lures his neighbor Costi (Toma Cuzin), a real estate worker who's having trouble paying his bills too, into a venture to find treasure he suspects is hidden on inherited property. At first Adrian just says he is strapped for cash and asks to borrow 800 euros. When Costi says no, Adrian explains about the treasure and offers to go halves on whatever they find if he'll put up the money. It's needed for a metal detector. Apparently you can't just buy one in Romania; you have to hire a specialist. To round up the cash, Costi must persuade his wife (Cristina Toma).

"This idea might have made for an amusing half-hour short," Mike D'Anelo commented from Cannes, where The Treasure debuted; " at 89 minutes, it feels extremely shaggy-dog." Indeed, a lot of screen time is devoted to watching two men dig a hole in a garden, with a pretty anticlimactic result. The ending, a sort of punchline, like the finale of Porumboiu's Police, Adjective (NYFF 2009), is perhaps just more peculiar (and vaguely symbolic) than shaggy-dog, but indeed the film feels dragged-out, a long trek to a small payoff.

Like Police, Adjective this new effort from Porumboiu, who made the more self-consciously modernistic When Evening Falls on Bucharest two years ago (NYFF 2013), is a curious combination of the doggedly realistic and the didactic. This time, Porumboiu chooses to scrub out the local color of Police, Adjective, posing characters in front of blank walls or bare ground for his Asian-style static middle-distance shots. The men do dig in real dirt, though, and they have to go pretty deep. As it dragged on, I wondered if the actors were actually doing this digging.

One fellow viewer thought the whole film was a joke; I could not see that, but there is some humor about a boss who insists Cristi must be cheating on his wife because he lies about his arrangements for the metal detector. After the treasure is found -- its exact nature a bit of a surprise, its cashing in full of bureaucratic detail, Costi, who's been reading Robin Hood to his little boy (Nicodim Toma), gives some of his cut away to children in the form of handfuls of valuable jewelry. This odd behavior seems inspired by his son's expectations from Robin Hood and the word "treasure." Much is made of the fact that under remnants of communist law, any valuables found must be shown to police and if determined to be part of the "national heritage," only a third goes to the finders.

When it gets late and the digging goes deeper and deeper with no results and Adrian and Costi doubt that Cornel, the metal detector specialist, knows what he's doing, the three start to quarrel. It's beginning to look as if things might turn homicidal, as in Chaucer's Pardoner's Tale or The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. No such luck. Porumboiu is too humorless and deadpan for that -- and he is moving on, laboriously, to his Robin Hood finale. What it means is anyone's guess. A viewer of Serbo-Croatian origin with whom I spoke after the screening thought it too was a reference to communism -- a longing, perhaps, for less selfish days. The film's obviously opens with a focus on today's economic woes.

There are some ideas hovering around here somewhere, but The Treasure winds up as yet another variation on the minimalist current Romanian filmmaking style, short on entertainment and not long on sense.

The Treasure/Comoara, 89 mins., debuted in the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes May 2015, winning the Certain Talent prize; also shown at well over a dozen other international festivals. Screened for this review as part of the Main Slate of the 2015 New York Film Festival.

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