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Corneliu Porumboiu is the film-maker whose movies such as Police, Adjective (2009) gave festival audiences a taste for his brand of bone-dry black comedy satirising bureaucracy and corruption in post-Ceaușescu Romania. Now he has put together this very watchable, rather exciting noir suspense thriller that has playful echoes of Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa and even Orson Welles’ The Lady from Shanghai.
Veteran Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov is Cristi, a corrupt Bucharest cop who has become involved in the drug-money-laundering setup he has been investigating. Huge amounts of cash are hidden in mattresses for export; these find their way to the island of La Gomera in the Canaries, where the bad guys are headquartered. Cristi has discovered that his superiors (themselves hardly impervious to bribes) suspect him and have placed secret surveillance cameras in his apartment. He knows exactly where they are but must carry on as normal.
The fateful day comes when the drug lord’s beautiful girlfriend, Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), comes to meet Cristi. To fool the cops, she pretends to be a high-class sex worker and has sex with him in front of the secret cameras. Gilda feels vaguely affectionate and sorry for the chump but it’s just business; poor Cristi, however, falls deeply in love.
The most surreal aspect is that Cristi must be brought over to La Gomera to be schooled in the local (and quite genuine) tradition of silbo whistling – the art of communicating in a whistled version of Spanish. The mobsters use it as a code that the police can’t crack. That whistling could well become a vital channel of communication between Cristi and the object of his unrequited love.
Whistling also has other resonances that Porumboiu allows us to ponder. Cristi – and maybe his commanders – have ambiguous identities and loyalties. They could be whistleblowers of a sort, revealing the secrets of their masters (whether police officers or criminals); and they are also snitches, singing like canaries. (The advantage of Gomera’s whistling is that it sounds like birdsong to the uninitiated.)
Porumboiu gives us a knotty, twisty, nifty plot that’s quite involved but hangs together well, and there’s an amusing juxtaposition of gloomy, rainy Bucharest and the sunny terrain of La Gomera. We also get a neat and unexpected coda. An elegant and stylishly crafted piece of entertainment.
•La Gomera (The Whistlers) screened at the Cannes film festival.
Source: The Guardian
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