The Whistlers (La Gomera)
10th October 2019 12.30pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
The Whistlers is a taut noir thriller, a tale of corruption that twists, turns and teases without ever releasing you from its grip. Corneliu Porumboiu, the Romanian director behind Police, Adjective, delves once more into the shady world of law enforcement, this time exploring how one bent cop becomes caught up in the criminal activity he is investigating.
Vlad Ivanov is suitably steely-faced as Cristi, a corrupt detective embroiled in drug money laundering. His character gives little away and yet his portrayal is complex, repelling with his shady dealings and yet pulling us back as he reveals an enduring love for his mother, a complicated relationship with religion (and the ultimate maternal figure of the Virgin Mary) and a protective admiration for Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), the girlfriend of the drug lord in whose operation he is entangled. This is a man who underestimates the law, but who never underestimates women.
The story weaves back and forth, uncovering layers of deceit below the surface. Though the characters are interlinked, each name is pointedly given to a distinct chapter; on their separate islands, no alliance – nor antagonism – is ever truly certain. The island from which the original title, La Gomera, originates is itself a big part of the story – an isolated territory in the Canaries upon which the criminals’ base is located. Unlike rainy Bucharest, it’s a sunny paradise. And yet shots of water are imbued with new symbolic meaning: swimming will not wash anyone of sin; it’s a reverse-baptism. Back in Bucharest, Cristi fools the surveillance cameras. On La Gomera, he evolves to a new level of duplicity by learning a whistling language that is not interceptable by police.
Fittingly, sound is employed powerfully in the film. We open to Iggy Pop’s The Passenger, which in its contradictory context is bleak and relentless. Classical music features strongly, Fauré’s Belle Nuit a recurring motif that masterfully builds tension. Whistled notes echo throughout the volcanic landscape, eerie and unsettling, then again through the urban environment, cutting above the noise of the city. Communication is key, but language loses all meaning when the intent is false; let the wrong people in on your secrets and the circle is no longer safe.
The Whistlers is a masterclass in suspense, a film about deceit that leaves us aptly in the dark and then illuminates us in a triumphant final scene.
The Whistlers (La Gomera) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.