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June 28, 2022

Porumboiu’s Treasure, One Certain Talent

The New Wave of Romanian cinema seems unstoppable, even if most of its members (Cristi Puiu, Cristian Mungiu, Corneliu Porumboiu, etc.) are well beyond their 40s, and it still grabs the attention of worldwide juries and audience. Recently, in Cannes, the respectable decision makers of the Un Certain Regard Category had to invent a brand new award, Un Certain Talent, just to reward Corneliu Porumboiu’s highly original, intriguing and yet, profoundly human take on comedy, in his latest film “The Treasure”.

The story is simple, and offers endless opportunities for comical twists and laughable turns. A decent and peaceful clerk with modest ambitions, Costi (Cuzin Toma), married and the father of a cute boy he worships (both the wife and the child are played by Cuzin’s real life spouse and son, non-professional actress Cristina Toma and the young Nicodim Toma, which creates a certain closeness and tenderness on the scene, irreplaceable by any level of artistic virtuosity) is one day visited by his neighbour Adrian, who asks for a loan and is promptly and politely refused. It is a brilliant occasion for both men to complain about the hardships of life in genuine Romanian fashion and to stir endless laughter with cliches delicately woven in a conversation that sparkles like diamonds. Filmmaker Porumboiu’s genuine treasure is his dialogue writing. Even if his films are mostly static – and The Treaure itself, albeit intended as an adventure film, shows scarce inventiveness in dynamic action, the viewer is content with just listening to the characters speaking. And this is one certain talent.

Obviously, the needy neighbour returns next day with a better offer. He knows that his grandfather has buried a treasure in his garden, and now, that they got back the village house once seized by Communists, he proposes Costi to hire a metal detecting engineer to help find the goods, which will  then be shared brotherly, in half. As soon as he has a motivation in getting involved, Costi accepts and seeks ways to raise the money.

It is, indeed, a comedy of greed, of stupid things people are willing to do for fast undeserved wealth. It is, indeed, a comedy that ridicules office gossip (Costi has to pretend he is having an affair to suit his boss’ suspicions), police work (two officers call the village thief to open a vintage iron box and even threaten him that he should find another line of work if he fails) rural mentality and the Romanian tendency for superficial fumbling and improvised solutions for any issues that may appear. The way the characters start fighting as the digging seems to be fruitless makes you cringe that, once those people find anything, they might kill each other.

And yet, as the characters do eventually find something of value, their demeanour changes in such a gentle and warm way, that the satire is suddenly melt into pure poetry. While still remaining laughable. And this is also one certain talent.


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