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.

Read the rest of this entry »

F.I.L.M. of the Week (August 6, 2015)

6 08 2015

Police, AdjectiveHow has someone yet to remake the Romanian New Wave film “Police, Adjective” for an American audience?  Seriously, this needs to happen.  Though the action of the film takes place on another continent, this could easily be a film about the United States with just a quick change of language and setting.

“Police, Adjective” follows just who you think it would – Cristi, a police (noun) officer.  He gets assigned to nab a low-level drug dealer, which involves a lot of tedious tracking, observation, and then logging his notes.  The bureaucracy he faces proves soul-crushingly oppressive, and writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu lightens up these portions of the film with a pitch-black comedic tone.

But this is not a movie about the investigation itself.  “Police, Adjective” goes further into the profession beyond the duties required to police (verb) a population, inquisitively asking who gets policed and why.  Cristi, in all the time he spends tailing his target, cannot help but wonder why he wastes his time on the little guy rather than a drug kingpin.  (Sounds oddly similar to the rationale behind the American “War on Drugs,” if you ask me.)

Cristi starts arguing that the police miss the forest for the trees and begins to see the myopia play out in the law, in language, as well as in systems of institutionalized and internalized thought control.  It all leads up to a rip-roaring climax of … reading the dictionary.  But never has that act seemed so gripping.  Porumboiu’s film gives primacy to the written word, a predilection emphasized by the use of tilts down Cristi’s police reports instead of a conventional voiceover.

He wants nothing less than to force his audience to deeply consider what they think the word “police” should mean.  And that conversation is so vital, apparently in Romania as much as in the United States.  Every time I hear about another senseless death at the hands of the police – be it Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, or Samuel DuBose – my mind comes back to “Police, Adjective.”

Corneliu Porumboiu’s film is certainly not for everyone, to be clear.  He uses long shots that conceal more than they reveal, which ultimately it difficult to get invested in Cristi’s crisis of conscience with such limited access to his headspace.  In addition, he uses some brutally long takes in the early portion of the film that consist of Cristi meandering just out of sight from his target; they convey his tedium by making us feel it.

But I truly cannot shake this movie.  In spite of its flaws and its oft-impenetrable surface, it has struck a nerve somewhere within me.  That alone is enough to qualify it for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week.”  And I hope it is enough to qualify “Police, Adjective” for an American remake that will compel a greater number of people to grapple with these important questions about the role of police in modern society.