Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. He will be contributing a series of “critic’s notes” to the Scarecrow blog—a chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connecting them to the riches of Scarecrow’s collection.
A film from the Grand Illusion’s revenue-sharing streaming calendar: Two Lottery Tickets opens today, which I review with a personal reflection.
Two Lottery Tickets
I have a curious backstory with this Romanian film, which I hope doesn’t unduly influence my admiration for it. In October 2016 I was in Constanta, Romania, as part of a Fulbright Specialist visit to that country. (Why four years passed before this should-be-surefire arthouse commodity came to America—it did play at the 2017 Seattle Romanian Film Festival—I don’t know, but it doesn’t say anything good about the distribution of foreign films in the states.) One evening after class, a couple of faculty members and a couple of students and I went to a big shiny multiplex to see Two Lottery Tickets, a hit comedy that, for some reason, was showing with English subtitles. Between the pleasant company and the chance to see Romanian candy advertised in the neon-lit lobby, it was a swell evening.
The movie could have been minor, given the circumstances, and I’d still look back on the memory with fondness; but in fact, it’s the real thing: a frequently uproarious tale rendered in a style of consistent comic integrity. We’ll get the to integrity in a moment, but the story is about three under-achieving friends who share a winning lottery ticket, and then realize they’ve lost the fanny pack in which the ticket resides. They’re played by Dragos Bucur (the effortlessly movie-star-ish star of Police, Adjective), Dorian Boguta, and Alexandru Papadopol, and their efforts to track the peregrinations of the ticket are the stuff of deadpan glory, particularly a journey through an apartment building that involves residents from a colorful mix of backgrounds. What the film’s surefire comic premise allows is a peek into a cross-section of Romanian society, including the anxieties and disappointments that live there. This is all painless, of course, because of the humor and the specific contours of the characters as brought to life by the inspired trio at the center.
The film has some amusing references to the house style of Romanian New Wave films, but director Paul Negoescu is rather good about hewing to a scrupulously disciplined style of his own. If I’m remembering it right, each scene takes place in a single shot, the camera not moving much, so that the comic ideas must come from the confines of that squared-off screen space—and, indeed, the confines become a huge part of the comedy in at least a few set-ups, including one bit (again, I’m recalling this from a four-and-a-half-year memory) involving a car and the fellas outside it. In other words, the comedy doesn’t come despite the rigorous style, but in part because of it—as people with names like Keaton and Chaplin understood.
After seeing the movie in 2016, a few of us went out to a bar, which perhaps bore some resemblance to the places in the movie itself. A lovely evening in a city on the Black Sea, and I suspect the movie itself lives up to the memory.
June 11, 2021
Robert Horton is a member of the National Society of Film Critics.