With Stuff and Dough, Cristi Puiu turns the simplest movie premise into a suspenseful and thought-provoking work. Recalling several classic films including The Wages of Fear and Breathless, Stuff and Dough holds its own.

In Puiu and Razvan Radulescu’s screenplay, a young Romanian man, Ovidiu (Alexandru Papadopol), tries to make enough money to start living on his own—away from his mother and their small, squalid Constanta apartment. Ovidiu sees an opportunity when a local crime boss asks him to carry and deliver a package to a business contact in Bucharest. Since he is going to shop for his mother’s storefront, Ovidiu accepts the deal and takes two friends along for the ride (Dragos Bucur, Ioana Flora) in his white van, never knowing he is carrying drugs.

On the trip, the three slowly discover they are being followed by a red van. When they pull over to find out who is in the vehicle, they are ambushed and forced to make a quick getaway. Next, the police stop them for speeding, which helps the friends elude their mysterious and dangerous pursuers.

When they finally reach their destination in Bucharest, Ovidiu makes his “drop” to a thuggish-looking man, but still is unsure of what exactly he has delivered. On their way back home, while his friends sleep in the back of the van, Ovidiu notices the red van in a field and the people in it murdered. Back at home, the young man gets paid for his troubles, but he also realizes he is now involved in something very deep and disturbing.

Director Puiu’s jump-cut, cinéma-vérité style previews his work on the superb Death of Mr. Lazarescu but also recalls Godard’s nouvelle vague masterwork, Breathless. In terms of narrative, there are tense moments on par with Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear, with the coveted stash of drugs filling in for the containers of nitroglycerin. The conflation of genres—crime thriller, road picture, family melodrama—keeps the viewer guessing and on edge. Yet what makes Stuff and Dough truly stand out is the unsettling, open-ended denouement. As with the unexpected conclusion of Mr. Lazarescu, the gifted Puiu transforms an absorbing story into a haunting look at the frailty of the human condition.

The tech credits, though low-budget, are just right for the occasion and the actors maintain their footing within the realistic, documentary-like atmosphere.

The American title doesn’t do it justice, but Stuff and Dough is a small triumph.