The Treasure, a subdued film from Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu, opens a window into contemporary Romanian society, revealing a less-than-rosy picture that's marked by economic duress, bureaucracy and a few lingering mementos of the Communist era.
That may sound like a formula for an explosive political movie, but Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest and Police, Adjective) seldom pushes the dramatic pedal to the floor. He's interested in quiet desperation, but he sees it through a sensibility that's so attuned to absurdity, it has become almost commonplace.
Costi (Cumin Toma) lives in a cramped Bucharest apartment with his wife and son. He likes to read the boy stories about Robin Hood, an activity that's probably meant to remind us of the moral of a popular folk tale: Rob from the rich; give to the poor. This may be ironic.
One evening, Costi is approached by Adrian (Adrian Purcarescu), a neighbor who wants to borrow 800 euros. The neighbor doesn't plan to use the euros to pay debts or stave off hunger. He wants to rent a metal detector and search for a treasure that he believes his great grandfather hid on a rural property that Adrian shares with his brother and mother.
The evidence supporting Adrian's treasure claim hardly could be skimpier, but Costi joins Adrian's quest. He'll pay for the metal detector, and, in return, will receive half of whatever treasure the duo unearths.
Costi rents a metal detector and hires a man (Corneliu Cozmei) to operate it. He sets out with Adrian to find what he may hope will be life-changing largesse.
The protracted scenes of treasure hunting are dryly funny, and nicely conceal the fact that Porumboiu has a few surprises up his sleeve.
I began by saying that The Treasure is about Romanian society; it is, but by the end, you may have remembered that it's not only Romanians who make half-baked decisions based on inadequate information.
No fair telling more, but know that Porumboiu wisely ends his film in a way that's either crazy, instructive or redemptive. Maybe all three.