Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Romania unveiled (again) in Corneliu Porumboiu's funny and exotic THE TREASURE

Exotic? Well, yes. For those of us not reared in Eastern Europe, at least, the latest movie from one of Romania's crack filmmakers, Corneliu  Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective; When Evening Fall on Bucharest), THE TREASURE, is quite the delightful piece of exotica in everything from its characterizations to its situations to the behavior of just about everyone on view. Oh, it's all quite "normal" on one level, and yet all is just different enough in various ways to raise eyebrows and curl lips.

Not for nothing do the characters here so often refer to the pre-Communism, Communism, and post-Communism eras. The film -- along with its characters and situations -- reflects all this, in spades.

Filmmaker Porumboiu, shown at right, tackles his tale from three perspectives -- workplace, family and history (personal and country) -- and he, as ever, makes fine use of them all. From the movie's opening in which a very young child berates his father for being late to pick him up from school, to the scene in which dad reads to his little boy from the Robin Hood story (which figures very nicely, subtly and ironically into the goings-on) through dad's job as civil servant, his relationship with his wife, and then with a slightly-too-needy neighbor, the movie teems with life and exotica in terms of how life, love and property all work in Romania today.

That father, Costi, is played by a wonderful actor named Toma Cuzin (above, and last seen on these shores as the hunky prisoner of Aferim!), here in a role that calls for him to play the put-upon peacemaker, which he manages to a "t."

Once Costi becomes involved with the neighbor (Adrian Purcarescu, above), who offers our hero what looks like a possible get-rich-quick scheme involving the title subject, the movie quickly takes off, building up a slow but steady head of steam and not a little suspense.

And yet, suspense and thrills are hardly what Porumboiu is going for. Instead he explores the often funny and ironic manner in which those close to Costi react to his new situation. From his wife to his boss to the local police near the property where this treasure is said to reside, the reactions are simultaneously witty and very telling in terms of the Romanian social contract, such as it is.

One of the film's best performances comes from the fellow (Corneliu Cozmei, above, center) who offers, cut-rate, his services as a "treasure hunter." Here, of all things, class and entitlement vs Communism and the work ethic come into amusing play.

The film's most bizarre scene is probably the one taking place in the local police department, regarding exactly to whom the police must turn to open up a certain locked box. The finale manages to be sweet, sad, and ironic as hell, while losing none of the credibility and satirical edge that Porumboiu has so cleverly built.

From Sundance Selects/IFC Films, and running a just-right 89 minutes, The Treasure hits DVD today, Tuesday, September 19, for purchase and/or rental. (It's also available now via Netflix's streaming service, for those who have it.)

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