The Treasure is Corneliu Porumboi’s fourth feature film and another opportunity to explore the socio-political ecosystem of post-communist Romania. The film seems simple at first glance, but it carries depth in its simplicity. It follows Costi (Toma Cuzin), an average Romanian man leading a non-extravagant life who has a steady job, a wife and a young son. Porumboi takes time to show us that Costi’s life is low-key, average and ordinary. His home life is filtered by TV watching and some episodes of bonding with his child, who steals some of the scenes as an affable little man. Costi has a staunch quality that a calm life may bring, a middle-class family man that does not seem to wander, rather moves forward in a non-confrontational way.
The action in The Treasure is catalyzed by Costi’s neighbor Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), who appears at his doorstep one evening to ask him to borrow a large sum of money. Surprised by the request, Costi responds that he is unable to help. The two ruminate on details about borrowing money in post-communist Romania and the different possible interest rates, as well as the differences between using Euros versus other currencies. One gets the sense that this is a typical water cooler conversation, one that in a country like Romania may be seen as a trap. Ultimately, Costi refuses to loan Adrian any money, and he leaves only to return soon after with the full story. It turns out that his family has buried treasure in his backyard and the initial loan was to cover the costs of a metal detector. Now he offers Costi a share of this treasure if he decides to go in and invest with him.
Porumbiou’s style is naturalistic. He allows cinematographer Tudor Mircea’s camera to linger on the subjects and allow them to be. The action is not driven by the director, but it is actually character-driven in a style that is far from Hollywood and indeed moves in the direction of minimalism. The tone follows the story wherein seemingly small actions point toward big payoffs. When Costi agrees to follow Adrian in this quest to find the treasure it all seems naïve, childish even. Costi consults with his wife about the investment to go after this treasure and shares with his son the exciting quest — a bonding moment for the two. It would seem throughout that Costi is about to get into deep trouble. His easygoing nature and the simplicity with which he approaches most situations make us wonder what is beneath this guilelessness. The quest for the treasure involves Costi facilitating the entire trip to Adrian’s old family estate in a venture that might indeed be headed to failure.
The main action of the film sees Adrian, Costi and Cornel (Corneliu Cozmei), a man with a metal detector who, in a running gag, clashes with Adrian over ridiculous trivialities that begins with ideology and devolves into ad homonym attacks. The quarreling between the two shown in long takes slows down the pace of the narrative, but also makes for some very funny moments when we see different sides of the everyday politics of post-communist Romania, with the disenchantment that capitalism has brought, especially in light of the many loses people suffered in the 1990s.
Although the hunt for the treasure is where the main action of the film lies, it is the little moments between Costi and his family that reveal the deep, real quality of this film. As with his earlier films, Porumbiou has again presented, in a very simple manner, something that is complex and hard to capture, which is revealed in the last few minutes of the film. Without going into spoilers, let it suffice to say that the film deserves repeated viewings and may in fact be one of the best depictions of the pitfalls of modern life and the redeeming qualities of life through the simplicity of human bonds — which have no price. Indeed, the Romanian director gets to the heart of what is valuable in civilized society.
The Treasure runs 89 minutes, is in Romanian with English subtitles and it is not rated. It opened in out South Florida area exclusively this past Friday, Feb. 5 at the Coral Gables Art Cinema where it will play at least through Feb. 11, Thursday.
UPDATE: The Treasure is coming to the Lake Worth Playhouse on Friday, Feb. 19.
IFC Films provided all film stills in this review as well as an on-line screener link for the purpose of this review.