The Treasure has been praised by festival audiences and critics alike, but I’m still trying to figure out why. Arriving from the politically ravaged land of Romania, this dreary comedy tells the story of two men who search for riches to fight off building debts and feelings of mediocrity. We’re given a “jovial” taste of the oppression these European citizens feel on a daily basis, yet calling Corneliu Porumboiu’s film a comedy couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Performances are dull, Tudor Mircea’s cinematography lacks energy, and the entire production comes across like a dry, flaky wafer that’s almost a chore to digest. While this all plays into Porumboiu’s characterization of modern-day Romania, it just doesn’t translate into an enjoyable, or intriguing buddy “comedy” – with “comedy” being an extremely loose descriptor.
Toma Cuzin stars as Costi, a middle class citizen dealing with the struggles that many of us face on a daily basis. Financial depression, political vagueness, and grinding weeks are a recurring cycle, but it doesn’t distract him from the family he loves. His neighbor, Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), isn’t as lucky though, and comes to Costi asking for 800 Euros so he can pay off some bills. Costi denies the request, but then Adrian confesses the money would be spent on a metal detector meant to locate some buried family treasure. It’s a ridiculous ploy, but Costi agrees to front the money if Adrian splits his findings 50/50. Adrian says yes, and after hiring their metal detector man, the duo set out for Adrian’s old family estate where his grandfather’s “fortune” is supposedly buried. Then, the digging starts…
…and that digging never seems to end. Porumboiu’s story is tremendously one-note, and doesn’t provide any levels of depth. There’s a level of ridiculousness in Adrian’s plot, but a heavy-handed smattering of giveaway Robin Hood themes are introduced early and often. This “give to the poor” mentality unintentionally suggests an ending this glistens with gold, and hinders a more grounded finale that’s much like everything we come to expect. The men plan for their dig, spend a night shovelling dirt, and leave after striking into a metal case. That’s the entire film. No quirks, nothing deeper, and certainly no more personal interactions besides TV news reports that play to Costi and his wife’s fixated gaze. Am I missing the comedy here?
Admittedly, I’m coming to you as an American outsider. The tone of the film, from my perception, is flat, droll, and utterly lifeless at times. Arguments are settled without ever getting animated responses, conversations are subdued, and the most colorful personality comes from Costi’s son. In no way is the film a chore to understand, but deadpan cultural mannerisms might not play to likeminded US viewers. It’s a bland, colorless roast that’s been cooked to a chewy leather – yet native Romanians may be able to appreciate the gloomy, beaten-down tone of an otherwise hopeful tale. Honestly, that’s not meant to be a criticism, but more an astute warning.
Then again, many of my Cannes-attending colleagues showered The Treasure with praise, so maybe I’m just broken? Toma Cuzin shares a few tender moments with wife and child, but the chemistry between Cuzin and Purcarescu’s Adrian is a flat, wood board. Porumboiu only dares to show them as two men with a common goal of riches, and never delves into any character development. Corneliu Cozmei, who plays their cantankerous metal detector, provides even less characterization, as he trudges around the grassy back yard, muttering at his treasure-finding devices. As previously stated, this is an extremely one-note plot, and no character looks to spice up the mundane excavation.
I’m in the minority here, justifiably standing where my heart truly lies. Even at ninety minutes, The Treasure fails to make a case for any such run time when a mere twenty to thirty would suffice. These two neighbors dig to the heart of Romanian plight, but fail to make any comments besides factual, surface-value observations. Worse yet, they’re neither attention-grabbing, or executed to promote cinema’s ability to convey deeper meanings. This is a movie about digging for treasure, and the things you find (both physically and metaphorically) – it’s just not a very interesting ordeal.
The Treasure is a one-note film that's a dry, bleak endeavor, devoid of character and lacking personality.