(Corneliu Porumboiu, 2015)
If you can imagine the predatory capitalism of something like Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne’s Two Days, One Night reimagined as an absurdist Romanian fable, then you have some idea of what to expect from Corneliu Porumboiu’s new film The Treasure.
In post-Communist Romania, two destitute men utilize their meager resources for a treasure hunt. Costi (Toma Cuzin) lives modestly as a bureaucrat, though struggles with debt. He’s reading Robin Hood to his son, a telling detail that underscores much of the picture, when his neighbor Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu) comes to his door. Adrian first asks for a loan, 800 euros, to help with his mortgage, whereby he’s paying an absurd 11% interest rate. Costi cannot oblige Adrian’s request and the two part. Yet Adrian returns, this time with a proposition: there’s buried treasure in an ancestor’s lot that would require the need for a metal detector to find. Help pay for the metal detector rental and share in the riches.
Like Porumboiu’s Police, Adjective (the only other Porumboiu I’ve seen), The Treasure primarily consists of long takes of actors dryly discussing process, whereby their struggles tends to coincide with Romania’s oppressive social structure. Yet unlike Police, Adjective, The Treasure benefits from a droll approach to its intriguing premise. Dramatic tension wrests from Costi’s emotional and social maneuvering around accepting Adrian’s offer. From submitting the details to his wife to taking advantage of a colleague’s favor to conceal his whereabouts to his boss, the accumulative social debt explicitly points to larger and broader concerns as they relate to a recession-struck Romania that struggles to progress.
And there’s the search for the treasure itself. As Costi hires Cornel (Corneliu Cozmei) as minesweeper, we see the triad plod their way through a flatland prairie on a dismal and cloudy weekend. The sight of seeing three men slowly shuffle their way in hopes of finding buried riches never wanes, especially as Adrian and Cornel bicker endlessly about the logistics and usefulness of their metal detector. Finding a hotspot (the metal detector’s pinging siren taking over the sound design in an amusing way), Costi and Adrian dig. And dig.
The Treasure’s final act is a notably potent one (something I’ve come to expect from much of Romania’s New Wave), where the discovery of treasure, of sorts, takes the film from its allegorical roots to something close to a high-concept generational indictment. If the aforementioned Dardenne’ film attempted to cajole a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps” mentality, then Porumboiu aspires for something much less noble; acquire currency, maintain the hereditary monarchy.