Still meta-bolizing: Comoara von Corneliu Porumboiu

Combining a treasure hunt – which has little to do with what one would expect it to look like – with comic and absurd situations and the bitter humour of Romanian bureaucracy and history, Comoara, Corneliu Porumboiu’s latest, hides beneath its apparent simplicity a multitude of (unfortunately upmost thematic) layers. Simply put, the film deals with several types of crisis- the crisis of the unheroic individual,  a cultural crisis, as well as an ongoing crisis of cinematic representation and linguistics – in a meticulously constructed easy-going tone.

Costi (Toma Cuzin), a husband, father and city hall employee, gets an unusual proposition from his neighbour Adrian (Adrian Purcărescu). Adrian proposes that the two of them go searching for a treasure which might be buried near his old family house. Costi, somewhat covered in debts and perhaps willing to impress his son by becoming a modern day Robin Hood – a story we see and hear him reading to his son -, accepts and puts up the money for a renting metal detector and paying a metal expert. There are some slight stylistic difference between the part of the film playing in the city – the preparation for the treasure-hunt – and the part showing the actual treasure-hunt, taking place in the garden of Adrian’s old family house, located in Islaz.

The Treasure

The scenes taking place in the city often show the characters in narrow shots. Establishing shots are a rarity, as is camera movement – almost all over the film. Such is the case when Costi and his wife -a family also offscreen, the child also theirs- are to be seen together, often sitting next to each other, watching absent minded either TV or the children’s playground. That they hardly ever look each other in the eyes does appear to be quite absurd, but maybe the argument the Romanian film critic Andrei Gorzo used when writing about Poliţist, adjectiv still applies. What we are seeing is not a dysfunctional relationship but rather Porumboiu’s accurate observation, since in life not even in the happiest of married couples do the spouses spend every minute mouth in mouth. This not looking is therefore rather a correction to the iconic imagery of “happy married couple”. Comoara abounds in  such revisions.

As the treasure-hunt sets off, several other revisions are made. “Danger“ has little to do with swords and fighting. In Comoara, the dangers the “adventurers” might encounter take the shape of a possible lawsuit, getting fired or the treasure being proclaimed national heritage and as such, taken away. “Adventure” has little to do with entertainment, it has far more to do with absurd situations and waiting. As Costi, Adrian and Cornel (Corneliu Cozmei), the metal expert, arrive at old house in Islaz and the process of detecting the metal begins, the film suddenly swifts from this narrowness to long very wide shots, letting the absurdity of two men waiting and one slowly walking in the middle of the night in a big garden sink in. This is what the adventure looks like, and it sounds like the metal detector annoyingly beeping for what feels like half an eternity, thereby accentuating the comic of the situation. Ironically, the “thrills” of this “adventure” lie not in some sort of sudden action or intrusion by another character as in children’s adventure stories, but in this beeping and the numbers on a screen, describing whether the sound is caused by ferrous or non-ferrous metals. Comoara shows how the meaning of words or concepts as “adventure” and “treasure” has mutated, how what this words denote has changed over time, becoming quite non-tangible and  more abstract. Porumboiu has already has already proved in his previous films that he prefers not-showing to showing. In Comoara this preference is also supported by the observation that the objects and action certain words represent have changed their appearance. This mutation stands for a crisis of representation; beneath the thickish layer of heart-warming plot Porumboiu is still meta-bolizing.

The place where the treasure hunt takes place, Adrian’s old family house, has an impressive history, having (barely) survived the changing of several political regimes by being transformed into a kindergarten, a brick and metal deposit, as well as into a strip-tease club after the Romanian Revolution. Comoara also makes a comment on the worrying stand of education in Romania. Information regarding the territory’s history is scattered throughout the film’s dialogues, information, which appears to be crucial also in determining the chances of finding a treasure findig a treasure near this particular house. Thus the Romanian War of Independece, the Proclamation of Islaz, as well as many other significant historical events are mentioned in the film.

The Treasure2

Surprisingly enough, Costi and his neighbour do find the treasure. The police stops them while they attempt to get away with the metal box they have found but were not yet able to open. Next we see, they are sitting inside the police section with the two police officers and Lică, a thief well known for being able to open up impossible locks and apparently highly esteemed by the police officers. The absurdity of the situation – and of this portrayal of Romanian bureaucracy – lies in viewer’s knowledge that the treasure hunters had considered contacting the thief themselves, ultimately deciding not to do so, possibly afraid of getting in trouble with the police.  Apart from being one of the most skilled characters of the film, Lică also surprises by being able to read German, Germany being perhaps his place of ‘work’.

German – because like “adventure”, “happily married couple”, “danger” and “thrills”, “treasure” does not look as one would expect it to. It comes in form of paper sheets hidden in a metal box – stock holdings at Mercedes. Finding a German treasure brings the film’s absurdity to a climax. Porumboiu makes a political joke by letting Romanians find German stock holdings while Canadians prepare to mine for gold in Roșia Montană – a debate followed by Costi’s wife on TV in another scene of the film. Since it cannot be claimed as national heritage, the found treasure is all theirs and it mutates, we suppose, into a larger number in Costi and Adrian’s bank accounts, something non-tangible again.

Confronted with his son’s disappointment when returning home without the rubies and pearls a Robin Hood would have gotten his hands on, Costi goes shopping for jewellery. In the ironically-happy ending scene of the Comoara Costi gives away the jewels he was able to buy to the children in the park, turning “treasure” back into what it was supposed to be. He himself, a humble father, metaphorically transforms into a modern and arguably heroic Robin Hood-like figure in the eyes of his son. The delighted children climbing on the attractions of the playground, accompanied by ample camera movement and by Laihbach’s song Opus dei (Life is life) mark the jubilant last scene of the film.

In dealing with the problem of so many things becoming non-palpable and thereby also with the resulting problem of their cinematic representation, Comoara also thematises the challenge this mutation represents for filmmaking. A challenge which can end up being quite a gain, if treated by masterful cinematic minds, such as Porumboiu’s. Comoara has indeed some richness hidden behind its plot.