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Treasure, The
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by Jay Seaver

"Methodical, but worth digging up."
4 stars

Even the titles of Corneliu Porumboiu's best-known recent films - "12:08 Easy of Bucharest" and "Police, Adjective" - are focused on a sort of precision that can sometimes be maddening and "The Treasure", ("Comoara" in the original Romanian) certainly starts out that way, hitting the audience right off the bat with a pair of the sort of conversations about minutiae that just don't happen outside of art-house films. It does eventually loosen up into a deadpan comedy, but that humor might not be enough for some considering the painstaking steps Porumboiu takes to get there.

The film centers on Costi Toma (Toma Cuzin), who is getting by a bit better than many in Bucharest, but still doesn't have enough money to float his neighbor Adrian Negoescu (Adrian Purcarescu) the loan he asks for. Not at first, at least; when Negoescu finally explains that his great-grandfather buried valuables on the family estate before it was sized by the communists (with the land only returned to the descendants relatively recently), Costi grows interested and scrapes enough together to hire a guy with access to a metal detector. Once he has stated along the path, the operation becomes more questionable - the government tends to seize anything with historical and cultural significance (interpreted broadly), and the details of Negoescu's story seem to become a little less favorable with each telling.

Costi is detail-oriented and basically honest, which would seem to be about half-useful in terms of this particular scheme. It also gives the film a dry sort of start as he initiates protracted discussions with both his son Alin (Nicodim Toma) and Negoescu about things that seem extremely extraneous. That Toma Cuzin and Porumboiu opt to underplay the character initially seems like a curious choice - there are beats that, if emphasized, could give Costi a stronger personality or make what's slow going more dramatic - but it pays off later on when the audience is able to get a fuller picture: We see a man who is curious but not obsessive, on the lookout for opportunity but not necessarily greedy, and mostly level-headed and conciliatory. That kind of man is not usually an exciting character, and though it describes most in the audience, viewers don't necessarily identify with him because they tend to grab on to something that sticks out. Still, by the time the film is over, an affection has likely developed for this man; Cuzin and Porumboiu have quietly brought his virtues to the fore, even if they are sometimes well-disguised.

The big contrast with Costi's neighbor is that Negoescu does not seem particularly interested in unexpected things, although the abrasiveness that will appear later is not initially apparent. Indeed, he's the one with a story or two that the audience will likely latch onto, with a family reduced from its deserved place by the government and the economic downturn wiping out his business. Still, Porumboiu and actor Adrian Purcarescu make sure that there's something a bit sketchy about him from the start - not quite dishonesty, but he is perhaps more enamored with ideas than execution. In the way that the viewer grows fond of Costi, he or she may lose patience with Negoescu; the man is not evil, but he is that guy where the little things add up.

That's not exactly the description of two icons in opposition, especially once you add in Corneliu Cozmei as the guy with the metal detector bridging the gap and creating a little common ground in the mild corruption everybody on this endeavor shares. Porumboiu is methodical through much of the movie, probably too much so; for as much as being level-headed is a virtue, nearly every conversation seems to be rather blandly informational to a level of detail will past what is relevant. The are occasional moments of whimsy, such as when Costi explains his absence from the office to a boss who insists that the real story is an affair between Costi and a co-worker,but things don't really pick up until the group gets to the old family property. There's still a lot of detailed explaining going on there, but the contrasting personalities of Costi, Negoescu, and Cornel get brought into relief, and things start to more clearly happen the way they do because of the types of people involved.

As the film moves into its final act, deadpan comedy moves to the fore, but it's often the type that can make the viewer worry a little, as the film that has been so focused on being reasonable starts to make jokes about excess. Happily, Porumboiu doesn't forget himself; threw are a number of sweetly charming bits beyond that, and while the Robin Hood story Costi is telling Alin at the beginning doesn't necessarily get called back in terms of stealing from the rich to give to the poor, there's a quiet sense of adventure, with one mystery perhaps leading to another, while the always linguistically-precise director very aware that he has been using "treasure" when something like "hoard" might have been a better description for what the characters sought.

As impressive as the film is when examined closely, there's no denying that some of the biggest laughs come as heavy metal band Laibach's "Opts Dei (Life is Life)" plays over the end credits, what with it seeming so ill-matched to the volume level of the film. That and the other small joys toward the end may not seem like enough, even for a short feature, but quiet is nice every once in a while.

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originally posted: 04/06/16 11:54:50
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Cannes Film Festival For more in the 2015 Cannes Film Festival series, click here.
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 AFI Film Festival For more in the 2015 AFI Film Fest series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Vancouver Film Festival For more in the 2015 Vancouver Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival For more in the 2015 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.

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