CANNES FESTIVAL – Cornel Porumboiu’s “La Gomera” (“The Whistlers”)

Despite its non-chronological narrative and slightly-convoluted plot Corneliu Porumboiu’s new film “La Gomera” is a winner. It’s a film noir with a femme fatale, murders and a morally-questionable hero. “Gomera” references “The Maltese Falcon,” and has one scene that looks like a first take from “Psycho.” Add to this a mattress full of cash, a pious mother and scenes from the Singapore’s Garden Rhapsody show and lots of waltzes and opera and you get fabulous, high-brow entertainment, a real crowd-pleaser. But the selling point of the film, the novelty, the widget, is the whistling of the title. La Gomera is, yes, an actual island, in The Canaries. It has a particularity in that its inhabitants speak a whistled language, called the Silbo Gomero. It replicates the local language, which is Castilian Spanish and is the only whistled language in the world that is completely developed and practiced by a sizable community (22,000 at last count).

Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) sets off for La Gomera to find his former partner Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), a mattress salesman and money-launderer for the mafia who got jailed after someone snitched on him. The mission: to get to Zsolt, because Zsolt hid 30 million euros in a mattress and only he knows where the mattress is located. Zsolt’s very attractive girlfriend Gilda (the aforementioned femme fatale, played by Catrinel Marlon) is very interested in this information, so she partners up with Cristi. In order to be able to interact with the local mafia, Cristi will have to learn Silbo  Gomero. You stick your finger in your mouth, and make your hand in the shape of a gun, as if you’re shooting your own ear, he’s told by an improvised tutor. By making different tonalities, you make the alphabet. It’s quite something to discover!

As I said earlier, “La Gomera” is a little hard to follow, the plot is all over the place. Fortunately, Porumboiu split “La Gomera” into chapters, each of which bears the name of the character, introducing him or her to the action in the following chapter. In a non-linear noir, the cards are helpful, to be sure.

Cornel Porumboiu’s first debut feature, 12:08 East of Bucharest, won the Camera d’Or Prize at the Cannes Film Festival and was followed by “Police, Adjective,” which won the festival’s Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section. Like Cristian Mungiu and Cristian Puiu, Porumboiu is a part of that critically-acclaimed new wave of Romanian filmmakers who became known after the fall of Communism. Porumboiu, and the other aforementionned directors put Romanian cinema on the map. He reprises the role of Cristi. In “Police, Adjective” (2009), there was a young cop named Cristi, too.


Corneliu Porumboiu