Review: ‘The Treasure’ mixes Romanian history and a quixotic mission

Actor Cuzin Toma as Costi, left, and Adrian Purcarescu as Adrian in "The Treasure."

Actor Cuzin Toma as Costi, left, and Adrian Purcarescu as Adrian in “The Treasure.”

(Adi Marineci / IFC FILMS)
Los Angeles Times Film Critic

Deadpan, determinedly low key and deeply absurd, the films of Corneliu Porumboiu are very much a particular taste, and “The Treasure” is no different.

One of the leading figures of the Romanian New Wave and previously responsible for festival hits like “12:08 East of Bucharest” and “Police, Adjective,” Porumboiu makes films that either elicit laughter or draw blanks.

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Created with a sense of Romanian history as well as the country’s current situation, the writer-director’s stories often feature protagonists for whom modern life is too much, who find themselves involved in shaggy-dog stories that end in ways that surprise both the audiences and the people themselves.


“The Treasure” apparently began life as a documentary that Porumboiu wanted to do about a friend and fellow director named Adrian Purcarescu, who was searching for a treasure that his great-grandfather had putatively buried on his property before the country’s Communist takeover.

That project never came together, but Porumboiu integrated its essence into this fictional story that starts with a low-level bureaucrat named Costi (Cuzin Toma), who loves to read his 6-year-old son stories of Robin Hood and even fancies himself as something of a Sherwood Forest figure himself.

Knocking on his apartment door one evening comes neighbor Adrian (played by Purcarescu), an impoverished publisher who is looking to borrow 800 euros from a man he barely knows for “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Desperately in need of funds, Adrian tells Costi of his quest for treasure that family legend says is buried on inherited property and promises to split the take 50-50 if he can come up with the money to rent a metal detector to find the reputed loot.


Though this sounds straightforward enough, nothing about this quest goes in a straight line, starting with Costi’s reluctance to ask for the money from the father-in-law he says can’t stand him. “It’s not that he can’t stand you,” corrects his wife. “He doesn’t like you, but he can stand you.”

Just getting the time off from work to rent a metal detector, not to mention actually negotiating with the rental firm, proves to be a major obstacle, as Poromboiu paints the portrait of a country where genial corruption is the rule rather than the exception.

Accompanied by a metal detector operator who may or may not know how to work his machinery (Corneliu Cozmei, a real-life operator), the two new friends go out to the property in question, which turns out to be in Islaz, a village that has a celebrated place in Romanian history as the site where the Revolution of 1848 was declared.

Most of “The Treasure” plays out on that property, as the three men engage in desultory conversation — a dialogue on the best way to get rid of crows is especially noteworthy — and search with increasingly manic determination and bad temper for a treasure that may or may not be there.


Filled with odd moments and curious statements — “Only 2% of Romanians,” we’re told, “read more than a book a year” — “The Treasure” bears out filmmaker Porumboiu’s statement that “reality is often absurd.” To put it another way, as protagonist Costi does, “a man makes his own problems. They don’t descend from heaven.”


‘The Treasure’

No MPAA rating


Running time: 1 hour, 29 minutes

Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West Los Angeles