Treasure, The (2015)

A low-key Romanian drama that struggles to find any kind of meaningful rhythm but is somewhat compensated by its droll tone and allegorical intent.  

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Dir. Corneliu Porumboiu
2015 | Romania | Drama/Comedy | 89 mins | 2.35:1 | Romanian
PG13 (passed clean) for some coarse language

Cast: Toma Cuzin, Adrian Purcarescu, Corneliu Cozmei
Plot: Costi is a family man whose cash-strapped neighbor makes him an intriguing proposition: help him find the fortune reportedly buried somewhere on the grounds of his family’s country home in Romania and split the profits.
Awards: Won Un Certain Regard – A Certain Talent Prize (Cannes)
International Sales: Wild Bunch

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Light
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: General Arthouse

Viewed: Screener – European Union Film Festival 2018
First Published: 7 May 2018
Spoilers: Mild

I appreciate slow arthouse dramas, but this one seems to elude me somewhat. 

Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, one of the Romanian New Wave directors whose circle includes the likes of Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, 2007) and Cristi Puiu (Sieranevada, 2016), The Treasure takes a mildly absurd premise about a family man and his debt-ridden neighbour (both staying in rented apartments in the city) trying to dig for valuable items that might have been buried by the latter’s late great-grandfather in the ground of a dilapidated family house in the countryside.

With a straightforward plot that sees them hire a person who could operate a metal detector to try to locate for any non-ferrous metal, The Treasure is shot in a no-frills style that is determinedly low-key. 

The performances don’t call to attention, though Porumboiu’s attempt to inject dry humour seems like a conscious effort to liven up the dreary film.  The result is a droll-and-drab experience—amusing at times, but also curiously vacant.

The film’s funniest moments come from the sound produced by the metal detector—a loud, distinctive siren whirl as it surveys certain spots that might contain potentially valuable treasure. 

With the actors playing straight faces, this seemingly juvenile sound is at once a marker of the ludicrous—of three grown men being serious in their search for instant fortune, as well as a foreshadowing of what happens when they leave the house.

Through the film, the characters take jabs at Romanian bureaucracy—particularly a law that says that any unearthing of objects deemed having historical value must be surrendered to the state, as well as the recollection of historical events that shaped the country’s politics and its people, including World War II (things that they had probably learnt in school or heard from elsewhere).

In a way, one could see the film as a ‘field trip’ where we are ‘taught’ about a country’s past, while it locates the characters’ actions firmly in the present. 

With an economy stricken with recession, and majority of the working-class struggling from day to day, The Treasure finds itself turning into a Robin Hood-like allegory in its coda (also mirroring a conversation in the prologue), finding levity, hope and joy.  On hindsight, it wouldn’t be a stretch to call Porumboiu’s work a realist fairy tale.

Grade: B-



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