Corneliu Porumbiou’s The Treasure is “one of the festival’s best and a real pleasure in these last dwindling days,” announces Notebook editor Daniel Kasman, and we’ll come back to him in a moment. But first, the set-up, courtesy of Michał Oleszczyk at RogerEbert.com: “Just as 12:08 East of Bucharest examined a specific moment in Romania’s collective memory, and Police, Adjective focused on language itself as a tool of oppression, the latest film literally zeroes in on a piece of land combed (and then combed again) in a goofy treasure hunt…. When Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu) approaches his neighbor Costi (Cuzin Toma) about the idea to look for a chest his grandfather buried during World War II, the scheme seems like something straight off the pages of Robin Hood, read by Cosi every night to his young son. Once the two men hire a standoffish Cornel (Corneliu Cozmei) to scan the designated area with his metal detector, the movie turns into a funny, purposefully grueling slapstick comedy of three guys stuck in a field, all set on what seems like a wild goose chase—complete with many a satirical jab at Romanian bureaucracy.”
Back to Danny: “As is to be expected, The Treasure charges its bare scenario with deeper intimations: the ground the treasure is thought to be buried in is a veritable cross-section of the last two centuries of Romanian history, beginning with being located in the town where the 1848 Proclamation of Islaz was declared in an attempt to break away from Russian and Ottoman authorities. Later a site for brickworks and ironworks, then, after the Communists took over, not one but two bars (one being a strip club as well), the plot of land the duo are searching and digging in is literally full of the history of modern Romania. All of this history is true: Porumboiu heard about treasure in this house’s yard, learned the history of the plot of land, and intended to make a documentary about it before deciding to fictionalize the scenario; in a way, his fictional characters are literally investigating reality.”
“Apart from some light comedy involving the metal detector’s constant squawking, though, there isn’t not much to The Treasure until its final scenes, which are as unexpected as Police, Adjective’s lexicographical climax,” finds Mike D’Angelo at the Dissolve. “This idea might have made for an amusing half-hour short; at 89 minutes, it feels extremely shaggy-dog.”
Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter: “Filmed in simple, static shots by DP Tudor Mircea (When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism), the action is reduced to lengthy deadpan sequences where things start off one way only to head someplace else, as clues are subtly revealed through dialog that often understates what’s happening. It’s a technique that keeps viewers at a safe distance while luring them in at the same time. In Porumboiu’s movies, what you see is never what you get, and there are riches to be had if you just keep looking.”
Screen‘s review goes without a byline for the moment: “Porumboiu is a minimalist who will never move the camera unless it is absolutely necessary, using plain unadorned, un-movie-like backgrounds, and directing his actors to underplay their roles to the point where the film looks no longer like fiction but an everyday occurrence caught on the sly by the camera. This would suggest at times a sort of hyper-realism which is belied by the script’s refusal in the second half to commit to movie rules and expectations. The Treasure goes its own way with the help of elliptical cuts that drive it over every predictable obstacle, while introducing subtle observations, not only on the way Romanians look back at their past records and measure up to their present, but also on the way they educate their children and how they respect the law.”
The Treasure “uses a leisurely approach to deliver a heartwarming family drama, merging the sentimental uplift of a Frank Capra movie with a decidedly more esoteric style,” suggests Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn.
“Very much like a good detector, the talented director has not missed his chance to sink his teeth into a very good story,” writes Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa, where you’ll also find a video interview with Porumboiu.
Updates, 5/25: The Treasure has won a Special “Prix Un Certain Talent” award.
Ignatiy Vishnevetsky at the AV Club: “The most celebrated moments in [Porumboiu’s] work have been extended arguments, mostly about culture: the cop going through the inane lyrics of his wife’s favorite song in Police, Adjective; the semi-notorious climax of the same film, in which a discussion of police work is settled with a dictionary; the second half of 12:08 East of Bucharest, in which an alcoholic, a part-time Santa Claus, and a smug TV host go on a call-in show to debate whether their town actually participated in the Romanian Revolution. Here, there’s no comparable central topic of debate, or at least not one that’s laid out in specific terms. Instead, it’s 89 minutes of people saying yes and things going as—or sometimes better than—expected.”
“What’s extraordinary is how delightful a story Porumboiu can draw out of such minimal means,” finds Giovanni Marchini Camia at the Film Stage. “A large part of the credit goes to the director’s characteristic droll humor, which could be described as a more realistic version of Aki Kaurismäki’s—the jokes are so subtle and sneakily deployed that the laughter catches you by surprise every time.”
Updates, 5/27: At Ioncinema, Blake Williams suggests that “there may be no act too banal for [Porumboiu] to turn into cinema gold, no narrative too thin or simple to have extracted from it a wealth of macro and micro details.”
For Jessica Kiang at the Playlist, The Treasure “crossbreeds Romanian cinema with a loopy, Jarmusch-ian sensibility and works into it all a heart of literal gold.”
Update, 6/13: “In the end,” writes Jordan Cronk at Reverse Shot, “Poromboiu isn’t so devious as to deprive the characters (or the audience) their prize, but the results of their efforts are satisfyingly ironic, which proves to be the wryest joke of all.”
Update, 6/15: Talking with Porumboiu for the Festivalists, Tara Karajica asks, “Where do you see your place in the Romanian New Wave?” The answer: “I do not know, I think each one of us is very different. In a way, I am afraid… I do not like to compare myself. OK, I like the work of Cristi Puiu, I like the work of Cristian Mungiu, but, at the same time, I also love Rohmer and Godard. I see myself more universally in a way, because I also like Lucien Pintilie, and my roots are here, but at the same time, they are also abroad. So, I think that my movies are more linked to Rohmer than to my colleagues. And now, because we are past our first or second films, each one of us goes in his own direction and each has his own obsession.”
Update, 6/26: Daniel Kasman‘s interviewed Porumboiu.