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Entries in The Treasure (1)

Tuesday
Oct062015

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.