Movie Review: Romanians run after riches via “Two Lottery Tickets (Două lozuri)”

The “lost lottery ticket” comedy has a rich (ahem) history in the cinema. Ask anyone of a film they recall revolving around a lost, stolen or “gave the winner a heart attack” (“Waking Ned Devine”) lotto and you might get any of a dozen answers.

“Uptown Saturday Night” is the best American comedy hanging on that plot thread.

The first movie to use the ticket to riches plot was made by silent pioneer Al Christie in 1912. By coincidence, that’s the year Romanian writer Ion Luca Caragiale was born. He wrote the story that “Doua lozuri,” first filmed in 1957, was based on.

“Two Lottery Tickets” is a Romanian remake of that Eastern Bloc Era farce. Two down-on-their-luck guys — well, three, after some haggling — pick the winning numbers, revel in their good fortune and then realize that the “bumbag” (fanny pack, still a “thing” in Romania, apparently) it was in was stolen.

This “Doua lozuri” is a rare bird, a comedy from Romania that doesn’t have Borat making a mockery of the place, a little slice of life of a country seldom seen on Western screens. Paul Negoescu’s deadpan film finds a few grins as it slowly gets up to speed, and manages a fine finish that makes it worth recommending.

Dinel (Dorian Boguta) is a somewhat hapless auto mechanic/body shop guy who’s probably been bullied all his life. We see a customer refuse to pay him for his work, and we hear him trying to threaten, by phone, the Italian “mafia boss” his wife went off to “work” with, or ran off with (it’s unclear) two years before. Gina he just pleads with.

She says she needs money to buy out her contract and come home, and he can’t pull the cash together.

“I’m penniless!” (in Romanian, with English subtitles).

Fine, his equally broke gambling slacker pal Sile (Dragos Bucur) says. Let’s play the lotto! Their mutual friend Pompiliu (Alexandru Papadopol) may launch into conspiracy theories about government “fixes” on the game, fixes with anti-Semitic overtones, but no matter. They ponder numbers, pool their lei (Romanian currency) and buy a six million Euro jackpot ticket.

But between the time they buy it and the moment they see the numbers they carefully curated listed in the newspaper, Dinel gets muscled by two bullies from Bucharest in the lobby of his apartment building. Giving up his “bumbag” is the price of his escape.

All the two — three, thanks to Pompiliu’s “investment” in the ticket — have to do is figure out who these guys are connected to in the building, track them down to Bucharest and reclaim the bumbag and their riches.

The laughs come from the assorted “types” they chat up, plead with or grill (as their strategy changes) in their door-to-door search in that building.

There’s a little girl who is “very smart, quite right” not to open the door despite their entreaties, the clueless old lady who thinks they’re here to fix the cable, the pot dealers who can’t focus long enough to remember two mugs who might have been customers, a “Gypsy fortune teller” who cons them with her “I know everything,” and a couple of enterprising hookers among them.

The comic possibilities are frankly somewhat richer than the payoff in this slow shuffle of a “romp,” but some of those interviews earn a chuckle.

A revealing running gag is their use of a vintage Dacia sedan that Dinel has restored to sell (also a running gag in classic “Top Gear”).

Cracks about “the things Communism did to this country” and “Jews, Masons” and “Gypsies” pepper Pompiliu’s paranoid rants. But only a guy this knowledgeable of history, this much a film buff and this certain the government is out to “steal” the ticket could pretend to be an interrogator, tracking down two “robbers.”

Reporting the theft to the real cops is a moment fraught with comical cynicism — theirs, because they don’t want to give away that there’s a ticket in the stolen bumbag as they’re sure the police will steal it — and the policewoman’s, who figures they’re wasting her time with this “nothing of value” crime.

“We’ll close the borders,” she deadpans. Then “We’ll let Interpol know. And contact the FBI.

“Deadpan” is the rule of thumb here, with our three leads shaping distinct character “types” and making them amusingly real — the hapless, gullible coward, the slippery, hustling womanizer (Sile) and the paranoid but well-read bigot (Pompiliu).

They remark about what a “beautiful country this is,” but “all the movies ever show is gloom and doom.” The petty crimes, vice, ethnic small-mindedness and general sense of lingering Soviet decay suggest maybe “Doua lozuri” isn’t any more of a tourism-board-approved comic postcard than anything Borat shows the world.

But it’s cute enough, even if it doesn’t sell anybody other than James May on the charms of a “vintage” Dacia.

MPA Rating: unrated

Cast: Dorian Boguta, Dragos Bucur, Alexandru Papadopol

Credits: Scripted and directed by Paul Negoescu, based on a short story by  Ion Luca Caragiale .A Dakanalog release.

Running time: 1:25

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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