In a modest modern apartment, with white tile walls, Costi, a bureaucrat, and his young son settle into reading the tales of Robin Hood, but are interrupted by the downstairs neighbor, a luckless out of work person named Adrian. Adrian borrows money from Costi and promises him half of what he finds if he will hire a metal detector to find buried treasure on the grounds of property owned once by his grandfather before the Communists took over. Suspense builds as the two men and the metal detector (which refers not only to the beeping machine but to the man wielding it) try digging up various portions of the yard, and we in the audience wonder whether the treasure is just a myth.
The movie takes place in contemporary Romania where the law requires you to give a big portion of what you find, if it has historical significance, to the police The three men in the back yard make a lot of noise with their metal detector and their digging. Part of the suspense has to do with whether they will find something valuable, but equally intriguing is whether or not the state will get any of it.
What is treasure? To the boy, it is something that pirates find in chests, and you can run it through your hands with its glitter and tells you in concrete terms that you are rich. For the adults — especially for the man whose grandfather assured him there was something there in the back yard — it is a ticket out of debt. To be relieved of the boredom of a bureaucrat’s job might be Costi’s fervent wish.
The metal detector, Cornel, tousles with Adrian who is suspicious of the technology, and impatient to find something. As the men explore the many uses the house has been put to since the revolution of 1989 — a school, a workshop, a repair shop, a strip joint — there is time to reflect on what modern work is geared to. How has the replacement of communism by open markets actually helped the people?
The beginning of the movie has us looking at Costi’s son sitting in the back seat of a car glaring outside the window as his father drives through heavy traffic. His father tries to win him back, since he was late picking him up, and only when forgiveness is granted does the traffic flow smoothly. At the end of the movie, which has a surprise I don’t want to reveal, it seems clear why the boy is the focus of this scene. It is all about fathers and sons, and grandfathers and family, after all.