Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Tue Oct 08, 2019 8:20 am 
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The trappings of a crime caper don't make for much entertainment

Corneliu Porumboiu is one of the most admired of the new generation of Romanian directors, whose Police, Adjective I reviewed in the 2009 NYFF, and his The Treasure in the 2015 one. He has his admirers, no doubt. I am not particularly one of them, and even less so after this latest effort.

Porumboiu provides the trappings of a unique crime story here with an unusual Canary Islands setting, but it's all tongue in cheek, and kind of by-the-numbers, so it's not fun and ultimately makes little sense. If conceptual genre flicks are your thing, go for it. Otherwise, stay away from The Whistlers.

"Corneliu Porumboiu's deadpan, daffy noir has a cop caught in a labyrinthine plot involving women, whistling and a mattress full of money" says Jessica Kiang, in her Variety review. Reviewing this film for the I]Guardian[/I] at Cannes, Peter Bradshaw calls it a "elegant and stylishly crafted piece of entertainment," with "a nifty plot" that is "quite involved" but "hangs together well."

There are however essential things missing from the start in this film and they are never supplied: what is this all about, and what are these different players' parts in it? There are mattresses full of cash, yes: where did the cash come from? Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), the stolid, corrupt cop who's the main focus throughout is involved in this business. But what is the business? How did he get involved in it?

Instead of providing details of the crime or personal touches about the characters, Porumooiu gets involved in motifs and peculiar local color. There is a hotel called "Opera" where the proprietor, who's in on the crime, constantly plays opera, on vinyl, loud in the reception area. He has a particular penchant for the Barcarolle from Offenbach's Tales of Hoffman. (This gets old after a while.) Most of all, Porumboiu has discovered Gomera, in the Canary Islands, where a code language to communicate with whistles is part of the local culture, and actually taught. Cristi gets lessons and eventually he is able to communicate this way across a considerable distance to the lovely Gilda (Catrinel Marlon). (Why if this is the local culture it's claimed that police would think the whistling was bird calls is unclear. I guess not on Gomera.)

I enjoyed the tightly organized edit of the film, the flashy cars, the pretty if repetitious music, and the beautiful Catrinel Marion. There is a dazzling music-and-lights show at an Asian entertainment park that's used for the final sequence. It's pretty. But it was impossible to enjoy or even understand the rest of the film.

The Whistlers/Gomera, 97 mins., debuted at Cannes in Competition and was scheduled for 13 other festivals including New York, where it was screened for this review Oct. 7, 2019. Metascore 74%.


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