REVIEW: The Treasure

4 01 2016

The Treasure posterNew York Film Festival, 2015

The financial collapse of 2008 might have originated in the United States, but it triggered a truly global recession. As in most instances of art reflecting life, the narratives we consume mostly resemble our own. Since these kinds of tales are primarily relegated to the independent or art-house realms, they tend to reflect the composition of that audience: American, well-educated, upper-middle class.

Yet it is fascinating to peer into how other cultures deal with the fallout of the recession through art. Admittedly, these require some intense seeking out, but Corneliu Porumboiu’s Romanian wonder “The Treasure” is worth all the effort. His film is not one that overtly grapples with the recession like, say, the Dardennes’ “Two Days, One Night,” but it nonetheless provides a fascinating setting for the events that unfold.

Cuzin Toma’s Costi is weathering the storm along with many working-class Romanians, though he is far from resigned to his fate. When his zany neighbor Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu) stops by with a get-rich-quick scheme, Costi is all ears. This plan, however, is far from the average hair-brained antics that have claimed the dignity of many a great film character. Adrian lets Costi in on a family secret about a buried treasure out in the countryside that he needs help excavating and unearthing. The job requires not only manpower but also an element of stealth as the Romanian authorities could seize its contents.

Adrian needs the riches to pay off a bad mortgage stemming from the financial meltdown. Costi could use a little extra money to support his family, and with Adrian offering a generous 50-50 split, he loses very little time yet has great rewards to gain. So the two set off, metal detector and all, to locate this buried bounty.

The Treasure (2)

Obviously, the journey is not quite as simple as putting shovel to dirt. The long, laborious process of locating the metal in the earth exposes rifts both personal and societal. Sure, the metaphor is fairly simple – as they go deeper into the ground, they venture further back into the Romanian psyche that includes the not-entirely-dispersed demons of communism.

And, of course, the possible futility of their potentially fool-hardy quest brings out plenty of interpersonal bickering that provides a bedrock of humor for “The Treasure.” Much of the film simply consists of Costi and Adrian sniping at each other while they search, yet it never gets tiring. The feature runs 89 minutes, but oddly enough, it feels longer – and I still wanted more. Porumboiu’s extreme naturalism felt intentional and calibrated in his 2009 film “Police, Adjective;” here, his proclivity for letting things play out as they would in life comes across as more authentic.

Interestingly, Porumboiu has mentioned that this project initially began as a documentary film but eventually found expression as the fictional film he made. That same spirit of being open to change and allowing the material to dictate its own revelations remained in “The Treasure.” The surprises that await at every turn make it a true joy to watch unfold. B+3stars

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