Sunday, July 14, 2024

“TREASURE”

THE STORY – Father and daughter reunite, reconcile and chart a course for Poland in what becomes a fascinating study of father-daughter relationships. Ruth (Lena Dunham), a neurotic businesswoman from New York, takes her father Edek (Stephen Fry), a charmingly stubborn Holocaust survivor, on a journey to his family home. While Ruth’s fascination with delving into the past provides roads to conquer her own demons, Edek’s hesitation to confront his past is fueled by nightmares and a fear that persists beneath his brave facade.

THE CAST Lena Dunham, Stephen Fry, Zbigniew Zamachowski & Iwona Bielska

THE TEAMJulia von Heinz (Director/Writer) & John Quester (Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 112 Minutes


It’s shaping up to be a year of films about Jewish people reclaiming their family’s pasts and traumas. Jesse Eisenberg kicked it off at the Sundance Film Festival with his sophomore directorial feature, “A Real Pain,” in which he and Kieran Culkin play cousins who travel to Poland after their grandmother’s death to see where they came from. The film manages to balance its characters’ awkwardness and humor with moving moments to become one of the standouts of the festival. Now, Julia von Heinz takes on the niche road trip subgenre with a similarly chaotic father-daughter trip to Poland in “Treasure.” Adapted from Lily Brett’s “Too Many Men,there’s plenty of dysfunction and frustration between the film’s characters, but it lacks the charm and reflection that a story like this needs to shine.

It’s 1991 and Ruth (Lena Dunham), a divorced journalist, has decided to go on a trip to Poland now that the Iron Curtain has officially lifted. Right away, the grainy and old-fashioned look of the airport and surrounding areas transports us back in time. But this important heritage trip gets tumultuous when her father, Edek (Stephen Fry, who learned Polish for the role and sports a convincingly thick accent), a Holocaust survivor, tags along and seems set on ruining almost every moment of this trip. Ruth has budgeted, meticulously planned, and reserved everything in advance, like a pair of train tickets. Still, Edek, somehow both infuriating and endearing, says the trains aren’t reliable and opts for a taxi driver (Zbigniew Zamachowski) instead. Giving away wads of cash to almost every Polish person he encounters, there’s a lot of reading between the lines that the audience has to do to understand how difficult this trip is for him, especially when he refuses to talk about anything at great length.

Throughout the trip, the two are at constant odds about what they want to see and do. Ruth wants to visit Łódź (the town where her father grew up) and Auschwitz (where he was taken and separated from his family). Edek, however, doesn’t want to revisit those places because that would mean he’d have to confront painful memories. Instead, he’d rather flirt with Polish women or nag Ruth about her weight, calling her “pumpkin,” commenting on all the seeds she’s brought to eat and how worried he is that she’ll die alone. This clash between them wouldn’t be so hard to watch if there was any humor or lightness to their relationship. It’s like watching an overwhelmed family unravel at a restaurant because no one knows how to talk to each other, and anything they say is misconstrued. Ruth knows there are decades of trauma deep within her father, but she doesn’t know how to gently discuss these issues with him or really even joke with him about anything. It’s a shame, given that both Dunham and Fry are comedians you can count on. The film ends up being tedious to watch, even though it’s under two hours long.

The strain between them also leads to another one of the film’s issues: it stops itself short of reflection or discussing how this experience impacts them now and in the future. As Ruth says at one point, there was never any discussion about the past, and now that it’s been a year since her mother’s/his wife’s passing, it seems even more impossible to get anything out of Edek. Much of the same can be said about “Treasure.” We see these characters go through heavy and overwhelming moments, like when they visit Edek’s old home and he sees that the current occupants are in possession of his family’s heirlooms. It’s a lot for him to take in, but rather than decompress and talk about it, Edek heads for the door and shuts down. At the end of each day, these two go to their separate rooms and act like nothing happened. It bothers Ruth, but she doesn’t do anything to change it, and it definitely bothers those of us watching.

Once Edek does start to open up, at least ever so slightly, Fry begins to show his character’s many complexities. It starts with a story here and there about his family’s old factory or talking about his mother’s teapot. As the film’s narrative unfolds, his walls continue to come down, and we get pulled into the stories he shares. It all culminates with a full-on breakdown when he sees one of his father’s prized possessions. Fry shows so much heart and soul in these moments, and it’s a true highlight of the film. However, we should note that that doesn’t excuse all his annoying antics and grumpiness, nor does it “fix” the film’s reflection problem. Ruth doesn’t have quite as much of a transformation in the end. She still has plenty of problems with her father, but they do share a nice moment together, and we see her soften toward his incessant comments – though it all comes a little too late.

It’s a funny coincidence that two films, released not too far from each other, manage to tackle similar material in different ways. “Treasure” has strong source material to bounce off of, but the charm of Brett’s novel gets lost in translation. If there had been more humor or a deeper discussion of the past, “Treasure” would have been much more substantial, much like how “A Real Pain” manages to do both. But, with what’s given, Dunham and Fry, in particular, are able to deliver strong and, at times, emotional performances in Heinz’s sentimental road trip film.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Stephen Fry’s Edek goes on an emotional journey that is often moving to watch. The film features strong production design and cinematography that transports you back in time.

THE BAD - The father-daughter dynamic starts to get old very quickly, especially since there’s a lack of charm and humor in their squabbles. This ends up making the film tedious to watch, even though it’s under two hours long.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 6/10

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Ema Sasic
Ema Sasic
Journalist for The Desert Sun. Film critic and awards season enthusiast. Bosnian immigrant

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Stephen Fry’s Edek goes on an emotional journey that is often moving to watch. The film features strong production design and cinematography that transports you back in time.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>The father-daughter dynamic starts to get old very quickly, especially since there’s a lack of charm and humor in their squabbles. This ends up making the film tedious to watch, even though it’s under two hours long.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>6/10<br><br>"TREASURE"