Advantage Rule

in 28th Panorama of European Cinema, Athens

by Victoria Smirnova Mayzel

Porumboiu’s movies are recognizable at once: a deliberately poor, impersonal camerawork, a narrative unfolding apparently in real time (literally so in the The Second Game) and the speech so effective that the future of characters seems to depend on it, on whether they get the words right.

Actually, there are two things that interest Porumboiu: how recent history becomes a myth and how myth produces reality from scratch, how it determines political features of the time. This explains the deceptive slowness of his movies: the characters are wandering around the city looking for facts of the most insignificant (even by provincial standards) crime (Police, Adjective); and this gives rise to endless delays when direct action is possible, for example, the application of the advantage rule instead of a penalty in a football game (The Second Game).

For Porumboiu, it is scale and relations that matter – from the unimportant to the important, from the insignificant to the essential. As they carefully seek the resolution of historical plots (it’s so natural for post-Communist countries which constantly aspire to choose ‘the right path’), his movies deliberately slacken their pace. In fact, they are obsessively looking for a mode to generate history, to aggregate a critical mass of words and events.

Obviously, the spectator in this cinema has to be an exegete. He is bound to live in the present, often “boring” and insignificant, to stay suspended, for he has no knowledge where history is going to turn.

There is such suspense in The Treasure (Comoara) too. But this time Porumboiu introduces a fairy tale element into the everyday reality. Costi refuses to lend money to a neighbor for interests on a mortgage (he too has to pay bills!) but invests into the quest of mythical treasure which the neighbor’s great grandpa hid from the Communists. At the beginning Costi passionately reads to his son about Robin Hood, and then the personages seem to really proceed for Sherwood.

Nonetheless, this absurd twist is consistent with a tale in which the characters put their trust in a miracle. Costi and Adrian hire an old ex-Communist who agrees to keep silent (because according to Romanian law, the treasure is to be restituted to the Government), dig till the night comes, quarrel about old and recent politics, and, once the treasure is found, are caught by the police. The irony is that they find not jewelry but a corporate stock of Volkswagens left by somebody else. The reality comically plays up to the imagination of those who rely only on luck.

But the movie finale is more astonishing still, because, once he is rich; the father buys jewelry in bulk and puts it into a box to ‘match’ the imagination of his son. Once he paid its due to the unconscious truth of language (‘the treasure’ is literally reified), Porumboiu shows how the myth constructs reality from the scratch, and how ethics (produced by an innocent impulse of the father) feeds the story of the son.

Edited by Steven Yates