Porumboiu, The Treasure Hunter: Yet Another Romanian Gem
As far as we’re aware, no Romanian director has yet made a movie about staring at a stark, white wall; that day may or may never come, but we can feel comfort in knowing that should such a film ever arrive, it will be sharp, hilarious, and entomb a trenchant historical inquiry pertaining to Romania’s revolutionary and Communist past. At least, this would conceivably be the case should Corneliu Porumboiu be behind the picture; if The Treasure is any indication, there may be no act too banal for him to turn into cinema gold, no narrative too thin or simple to have extracted from it a wealth of macro and micro details.
Simply put, this is a film set in modern day Bucharest in which two men, Costi (Cuzin Toma) and Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), engage in a search for a buried box of money that they believe to be two meters deep in Adrian’s grandfather’s backyard. Before all that, though, Costi is late picking up his son (Nicodim Toma) from school. It wasn’t really Costi’s fault (there was traffic), and the boy knows this, but that doesn’t stop him from feel raw about it. Costi tells him that later that evening he’ll make it up to him and read him the tale of Robin Hood, he of robbing from the rich and giving to the not so much.
The film, thus, is framed by the weight of a direct morality device, but it’s one that grows far weirder and more complex as the conclusion draws nearer. Part of this is because of how protracted their search ends up being. The men hire a professional metal detector (Corneliu Cozemi), who uses state of the art equipment to scan the yard and generate detailed topographical readings of all the metal under the ground. Another device, this one much closer to what one would traditionally think of when it comes to detecting burrowed metal, emits a whiny beep whenever it registers either aluminum, silver, or gold, which charges the film with a humour that verges on slapstick. The longer the search drags on–and it goes on for upwards of half an hour, one third of the entire film–the more absurd it gets.
Naturally, the hunt, the men’s personal motivations, and what they ultimately find are merely devices for far richer implications. Romania may or may not have the right to declare their findings culturally significant enough that they can confiscate more than half of it. The land itself used to be a used for ironworks, then a bar, then a strip club, thus extending the film’s archaeological conceit into a metaphorical excavation of the nation’s Communist history. Weighty topics, these, which is why the charm of Porumboiu’s destination packs even more of a punch. In the face of a continuing history of bureaucratic strictures, how amazing that a moment can arise where the meaning of money can be corrupted into an agent for happiness.
Reviewed on May 24th at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival – Un Certain Regard – 89 mins.