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The Australian-born novelist and essayist Lily Brett is the daughter of Holocaust survivors and writes frequently on that topic and condition. Her 2001 novel Too Many Men is about a father and daughter who travel to Poland to explore the father’s tragic past. One of the book’s many features is a series of conversations the daughter has with what she imagines as the ghost of Auschwitz commandant Rudolph Hoess. That’s right, the Rudolph Hoess, also spelled Hoss, a real-life personage who was the lead character in Jonathan Glazer’s controversial “The Zone of Interest” last year.

In adapting Brett’s novel for the screen, director and co-writer (with John Questor) Julia von Heinz omits the Hoss material, possibly wisely, but what she comes up with to add in its stead is relatively mortifying. “Treasure” retains the father-daughter journey narrative — set in 1991, if you were wondering just how old these characters are, anyway. Ruth Rothwax, played by Lena Dunham, is a New-York-based journalist consumed with self-loathing over a failed marriage, her weight issues (she carries with her plastic containers of stems and nuts with which she makes parsimonious meals at her hotel breakfast table), and her tetchy relationship with father Edek, a Polish Jew played by Stephen Fry. Ruth is perpetually tetchy, not least because she thinks Edek is being a bit too blithe about their shared investigation into his harrowing past. Ruth is also very big on expecting everyone around her to understand and speak English, an annoying trait among American tourists in general, and even more annoying somehow when it’s repeated ad infinitum in a movie narrative.

Did I say narrative? “Treasure” is packed with emotion and emoting at the expense of story. Things do happen, of course: In Lodz, where Edek was raised before being plucked out with his family and sent to Auschwitz, his old house is occupied by a nasty and poverty-stricken family that’s apparently been there since 1940 and still has the fine China owned by the Rothwax family. Well, Ruth wants to get it back, and Edek wants to let it go.

Then there’s the matter of Auschwitz itself. Will Edek go with Ruth when she visits the death camp — which several Poles they interact with call a “museum,” eliciting a furious response from Ruth — or not? This is one of many bones of contention.

People who possess a certain empathy can intuit that the reason some people who’ve experienced trauma in their past don’t wish to discuss that trauma, because it’s, you know, triggering. Ruth really isn’t one of those people. She holds her father’s reticence against him while holing up in her hotel room, consuming Nazi history and trying not to eat. In the meantime, Edek is partying with some female seniors. His wife had died the year before; the very idea of her father enjoying some companionship now is enough to turn Ruth into a petulant prig tyrant.

This is a confounding movie. Its pace is leaden, its structure lopsided, and while Dunham and Fry are both first-rate performers, their respective personae — both public and on-screen — are difficult for them to fully transcend. Still, they break through in powerful individual scenes, such as when Edek is inappropriately nosy (with a point) about Ruth’s personal life or when Ruth semi-haggles over the china with those house occupants. And the Auschwitz sequence is surprisingly well-handled. Almost enough that you might feel inclined to forgive the sentimental denouement. 

Glenn Kenny

Glenn Kenny was the chief film critic of Premiere magazine for almost half of its existence. He has written for a host of other publications and resides in Brooklyn. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

Treasure movie poster

Treasure (2024)

Rated R

111 minutes


Lena Dunham as Ruth

Stephen Fry as Edek

Zbigniew Zamachowski as Stefan

Wenanty Nosul as Antoni

Petra Zieser as German Woman



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