If you’ve never made the epic, multi-hour trek from the Palm Beaches to the art-house theaters of central Miami and Coral Gables, you can now experience their adventurous programming from the comfort of your coronaviral shelter.
In an effort to generate some business following their March closures, the Tower Theater opened a Virtual Theater, and the Coral Gables Art Cinema unveiled its Virtual Screening Room. Working with distributors who hustled to transition their theatrical titles into purely VOD releases, the theaters are offering limited-time rentals of fresh and acclaimed foreign-language, independent and documentary films. If you order your e-tickets from the cinemas’ websites, you directly support them in this time of economic hardship.
At the time of this writing, “visitors” to the Tower Theater can currently rent And Then We Danced, a same-sex romance set in a dance academy in ultra-conservative Georgia (the former Soviet Republic, not our ultra-conservative Georgia); Once Were Brothers, the essential documentary about Americana pioneers Robbie Robertson and the Band; Sorry We Missed You, master realist Ken Loach’s uncompromising story of a family struggling to make ends meet in the gig economy; and Saint Francis, a crowd-pleasing indie about an unlikely nanny who bonds with her 6-year-old ward.
Coral Gables Art Cinema is also offering Once Were Brothers and Saint Francis, along with The Wild Goose Lake, a Chinese neo-noir import. This week, I had a chance to review this feature, as well as another film available on both theaters’ platforms: the Romanian New Wave twister The Whistlers. Here are my thoughts on both titles, which make for a great double feature for fans of creative, postmodern crime cinema.
Romania’s Corneliu Porumboiu, whose films include the excellent drama Police, Adjective, returns with The Whistlers, his country’s most recent Academy Award entry. A mixed-up procedural that’s full of sly surprises, and set in Bucharest and the Canary Islands, it centers on Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), an unsmiiling detective whose encounter with Gilda, a ravishing femme fatale in a sinful red dress played by Catrinel Marlon, leads him into the inner sanctum of a crime syndicate that communicates in a constructed language of whistles — an absurdist, if essential, way to elude the prying eyes and ears of a 24/7 surveillance state.
With its jumps in time, its protagonist shifting his allegiance between the law and the underworld, and its authority figures who are as corrupt as its criminals, this eccentric story of money laundering, blackmail, poison and institutional rot upends expectations at every turn. It’s anchored, as usual, by Porumboiu’s droll wit and cine-literacy. Informed by pulp fiction and genre films, its ambience is flush with meta-references from the noir canon to The Searchers to Psycho. There’s even a naïve American “location scout” for a film project who stumbles into the wrong place at the wrong time. Its dénouement, set in Singapore’s luminous Gardens by the Bay, is the icing on a ludic layer cake.
Set in the cramped urban markets, apartments, traveling circuses and hole-in-the-wall restaurants of Wuhan, China, of all places, The Wild Goose Lake is as visually textured as it narratively grungy, a city symphony in neon and concrete. Hu Ge plays agile mobster Zhou Zenong, a fugitive on the run after accidentally killing a police officer. He has an estranged, epileptic wife (Wan Qian) who factors into the story, but it’s a stranger named Liu Aiai (Gwei Lun-mei), tangentially connected to his underground mob, who has been dispatched to shadow him to a safe haven — and who serves as the unorthodox femme fatale that will shape his future.
Director Diao Yinan, in his fourth feature, exhibits a bold and visionary command of film language, from Wellesian deep-focus photography to rat-a-tat montage (the D.P. on the movie is Dong Jinsong, who shot last year’s mesmerizing Long Day’s Journey Into Night). And while it’s an audible feast for the senses — an elusive score driven by clangorous percussion weaves around the revving motors, disco-pop and industrial noise of Wuhan street life — it’s the signature images I’ll remember most: a bead of sweat clinging to a nervous gunman’s Adam’s apple, a sun hat sinking to the bottom of a murky sea, motorcycle headlights piercing mountainous vistas like dancing UFOs.
Marrying the manhunt drama of Fritz Lang’s M with the cool, violent detachment of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive, this neo-noir is about as stylish as they come — and a look at a Chinese capital whose bustling freedoms feel, now, like a time capsule of bygone extravagance.