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Entries in Corneliu Porumboiu (2)


NYFF: The Treasure

Manuel here reporting from the New York Film Festival which is in full swing.

“Do you like Romanian cinema?”
“I haven’t watched much, actually.”
“Well, this is very Romanian.”

I wouldn’t have paid much attention to this overheard conversation ahead of the screening of Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure, had it not echoed in my head by the time the film's final intentionally strident soundtrack played right before the credits rolled. If this is so Romanian, perhaps I'm missing something in translation.

This occurs to me from time to time when I watch foreign films. It happened as I watched Journey to the Shore and as I watched Arabian Nights (though less so when I watched In the Shadow of Women, given my familiarity with French cinema). I wondered whether, as a non-national, I was missing crucial contexts, subtexts and frames of reference that would not only enrich my viewing experience but make it suddenly come alive. As much as we like to think cinema is a universal language, we sometimes forget that the best storytelling need not transcend its own borders. Sometimes, as is the case here, it's about precisely looking inward to Romania's own history and crafting what seems like a universal parable, though borrowing from a decidedly Catholic British icon: Robin Hood.

That is to say The Treasure is a good film, though one whose allure escapes me. The plot is as simple as they come: a man asks his neighbor for money to hire a metal detector professional who’ll help them unearth a possibly buried treasure in his grandfather’s old estate in the country. Porumboiu’s filmmaking is impressive, from his unshowy long takes to his penchant for medium and wide shots that let his characters interact freely, giving the film a kinetic stillness on pace with its laconic deadpan script. But, given the film’s attentiveness to Romania’s past, from the 1848 revolution, to its recent communist history and its slow integration into free market capitalism (all of which are briefly glossed by the film), I still felt like an outsider looking in, gripped by the plot and enthralled by the trio of performers, but always feeling like I was missing something in its simple absurdity.

The Treasure plays at NYFF Thursday October 8th, Friday October 9th and Sunday October 11th.

Amir's TIFF Roundup, Pt 2: The Good

Amir here, back to finish my TIFF diary. With the bad taste of my previous roundup washed away, it's time to move on to the good stuff. And boy did we have a lot of that.

As a diligent ticket stub collector (I know some of you do that, too) it wasn't hard for me to look back at the previous editions of the festival, put the films side by side and compare this year to past festivals. Without a doubt, my 2013 lineup is the cream of the crop. So strong were the films I watched this year that my TIFF top ten can easily match the quality of any of my year-end top tens. Still, I hesitate to call this a good year for Toronto. TIFF is, by nature, impossible to classify as having a "good" or "bad" year. The festival's gargantuan program offers nearly 300 films and each person's experience hinges entirely on their particular selections. Essentially, every year is a good year for TIFF and every years is also a bad one. It all depends on which tickets you buy.

Yet, the films themselves aren't the only thing that made this festival special for me. The people did, too. Boring as it might be for you to read, I'd be cheating you if I pretended that the cinema was all I had on my mind, that the conversations and the atmosphere didn't affect my experience of the festival. And that's really what makes the whole ordeal worth it. Sure, I watched a few early morning screenings with pins holding my eyes open, but would you pass up on the chance to talk about actresses with Nathaniel and Nick over beer and nachos? Yes, I had to skip a screening I had paid for, but I dare you to find an Iranian cinephile who wouldn't take a dream-come-true interview with Asghar Farhadi over any film. I should have probably given a film its fair due by not watching it hungover, but hey! I got to Karaoke with the two German brothers who made my favourite film of the festival, so that's a win-win in my books. That's not to mention the invaluable friends I've made among journos whom I cherish more than the films I watched. The point is, the standard of films was more consistently great than previous years, but the mood was set just right, too. I'm aware, however, that most of you would rather read about the films than my beer-fuelled adventures, so let's get right to the point.

Starting from the top, the aforementioned German film by Ramon Zurcher, The Strange Little Cat, was the clear highlight for me... [more]

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