In a puckish bit of self-reference, one of the characters in the Romanian comedy, TWO LOTTERY TICKETS, opines that Romania doesn’t make good movies anymore. They’re all doom and gloom, completely missing the essence of Romania. In his second film, Paul Negoescu sets out to change that single-handedly and does a tidy job of it. Combining the buddy road trip genre with a fine example of the shaggy dog story, he gives us three dim bulbs whose dumb luck is exceeded only by their tenacity.
They are Dinel (Dorian Boguta), a car mechanic sporting a fanny pack and high-water pants whose wife has left him for an Italian. Sile (Dragos Bucur) is a carpenter with a gambling problem and an overweening need to take pretty girls to the seaside. Pompiliu (Alexandru Papadopol) is the resident conspiracy theorist, perhaps brought on by his job as a government functionary. As they kill time at the local bar, Sile talks the reluctant Dinel into going in on a lottery ticket with him. Both of them being short of funds, they convince Pompiliu to chip in, which means that when the ticket wins six-million lei ($1.5 million in dollars), they decide that the fair thing to do is split it in half three ways, as they put it. Or it would be the fair thing if Dinel hadn’t been robbed of the fanny pack in which he placed the winning ticket. Undaunted, they somehow manage to track down the robbers, or at least their address, but not before strewing confusion, family squabbles, and bemused working girls in their wake.
The humor is as droll and as deadpan as the trio are in deadly earnest as they make their way from their small town to Bucharest in Dinel’s car, which has legal issues that keep them all on the lookout for the law. Negoescu takes his time setting up the jokes and his characters, keeping the latter true to form in simultaneously overthinking how to overcome the obstacles in their path, and completely missing the point most of the time. As for the latter, the slow build pays off with a light touch that keeps the action just this side of tragedy, a balancing act reflected in the beautiful cinematography rife with bold colors that are somehow both chipper and dour. Negoescu also relies on dialogue rather than pratfalls, though he and his actors have a deadly sense of timing when it comes to the visual joke as well as the spoken variety.
Told in long takes and keenly observed reaction shots that become funnier as they go on, TWO LOTTERY TICKETS is more than just a poetic punch line. This sly and charming story meanders along making its point about cinema and human nature with nary a trace of pretension, nor a pandering nod to political correctness.