THE TREASURE, the latest film from Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu, zeroes in on a literal and figurative hunt for a buried treasure with comedic results. It premiered at Cannes Film Festival this year where Porumboiu was awarded The Un Certain Talent Prize.
The Treasure is screening at AFI FEST tonight.
This interview was part of a round-table conversation at Cannes Film Festival in May 2015.
Knight: So, a treasure hunt…That sounds like the ultimate Romanian fantasy!
Porumboiu: (laughing) Yes, and there are a lot of stories like that in Romania, the local legends about someone who buried a treasure. It’s linked to the idea of miracle and as an orthodox country we believe in that!
Knight: In making this movie, you initially started from a documentary idea.
Porumboiu: Yes, Adrian who is playing the supporting role in this film, he told me a story about someone his grandfather knew who buried a treasure and we went there with a small crew to find it! But we didn’t find anything! So I thought I should make a feature film and then I’ll find the treasure!
Knight: What was the filmmaking process like?
Porumboiu: It was very strange. When I shot the documentary, Corneliu, who is the metal-detector guy in the film, he did not do a very good job with the computer and we were all looking at him anxious but also bursting with laughter. I really had the feeling that we were all lost in that garden and that was the first push to make the movie. So when I wrote the script, I was obviously thinking of the mise-en-scène and how the second plan looks and all that […] but my utmost concern in this movie was the tone. Will I find the right tone for the characters? From the beginning I wanted to have this distance from the story. Because it was very easy to slip into caricature with this film, it’s not like my other films. I’m quite happy with what I’ve achieved. After shooting, I took out a lot of scenes, especially from the beginning. Because the beginning is so puzzling that some of the following scenes did not fit very well into the structure. In the garden where I shot many long scenes, I wanted them to have an internal reason for being like that. After that, in the editing room, you can cut them shorter. But when I’m shooting, I focus on the internal reason of the shot.
Was there also improvisation in the garden scene?
Yes, even if it was all clear from the documentary. We usually rehearse a bit based on the script, but then we change the scenes from take to take. For the last scene we had about 20 takes. and I changed the scenes a little bit from take to take.
All your films talk about the possibility or impossibility of representing reality…
All my stories are about real things that happen around me. And every time I start with the desire of making a “real movie”. But at the same time it’s a convention. So it’s a paradox that I’m living every time. I want to make something “real” but at the same time I know that by structuring it, I’m making something else.
Why is it important to work with elements of reality in your films? All the filmmakers I admire the most did that, the French New Wave filmmakers, the Italian neorealists.
I’m inspired by reality, if I come across a story that at one point is important for me, I have to to tell it in a certain way. It’s a subconscious process, it’s like I want to say that now. But I wanted this film to be like an adventure.
Is the main character like a modern Robin Hood?
Yes, there is a suggestion to that effect. But when I was writing the script, it was very important to me that he is forced to give the treasure to the the kids. In the script this scene was more violent, the kids are just grabbing things.
I wanted the character to be in a very fragile equilibrium, he is not happy with his career. As to the kids, in Romania we say all the time that we are the sacrificed generation, therefore we want our kids to lead better lives. There are a lot of people who put a lot of pressure on their kids. When I did the casting, I saw a lot of kids and they all had such a busy schedule, they would come in with their mother or baby-sitter who would say, “At 4pm we have swimming, then we have this”. They looked so tired!
How did the casting for the other characters go?
We have very good young actors. Even the actress who plays the shop assistant in the jewellery store in tho film, she is very good. Between the ages of 25-35, you have at least a dozen very good actresses, and different typologies. Unfortunately there aren’t too many parts for them in Romanian films. But there are a lot of young actresses, it’s crazy what is happening now. But if you go over 50 years of age, it’s more difficult.
Is Corneliu, the metal-detector guy, the same person as in the documentary?
Yes. Although I did a casting with professional actors for this role. I gave the the dvd of the documentary and I told them I’m interested in a certain type of body language, I wanted this character to be like an extension of the machine. And Corneliu showed them how to do it and I realised he was so good that I said to him, Corneliu, you do it! And he read the script and said yes I can do it, it’s easy because I just reply to them! And I think he wants to do more acting now, we changed his life trajectory!
He is an interesting character and he functions like a metaphor for cinema in a way: making an image of a reality you don’t see, a 3D image created in numbers and colours that you have to interpret.
Yes, and it’s like a joke, we have the same name, and I was thinking that he was like an alter-ego for me. At the beginning when he introduces himself, “I’m Corneliu”, it’s very funny. But the scene where they start to fight in the garden was very difficult to shoot. […] There is a certain type of invisible despair in the film. I also wanted to play with this cliché that they will kill each other, in order to build up tension. I wanted to give the impression that they were digging their own graves.
2015 is a good year for Romanian cinema. Radu Jude won the Silver Bear for Best Director with Aferim! at Berlinale. There are two Romanian movies in Un Certain Regard in Cannes, yours and Radu Muntean’s One Floor Below. Is it getting easier making films in Romania?
It’s the same in a way. What is good is that three years ago they started to have the contest for state funding twice a year. Cristi Puiu just finished shooting, Mungiu too, Mitulescu has a movie that will premiere at a film festival by the end of the year, Adrian Sitaru just finished a very good movie from what I’ve heard and he’s shooting another one. Serban Florin is also making a film. It’s looking good. I actually have another project I’m working on now.