A classic in ‘Emma.’ and a hardboiled detective film in ‘The Whistlers’

“Emma.”, the latest film version of the Jane Austen classic, and “The Whistlers,” a Romanian crime story, were slated to play at the MV Film Center this weekend, but due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the Film Society has decided to suspend all screenings and events at the Film Center until at least April 1. 

Dating from 1815, “Emma” follows “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” as the last of Austen’s work to be published during the author’s lifetime. The celebrated novelist focuses on satires of 19th-century English social mores, particularly on women’s pursuit of marriage.

The mysterious period at the end of this film’s title, “Emma.,” might be an allusion to the film’s source in Jane Austen’s novel. In her film debut, director Autumn de Wilde employs her background making music videos to create the film’s visual design and music. Other cinematic versions of the Austen novel include Amy Heckerling’s popular Beverly Hills-based 1995 “Clueless” and the 1996 “Emma” starring Gwyneth Paltrow.

Anya Taylor-Joy, known for her TV roles including most recently, “Peaky Blinders,” plays Emma Woodhouse. This wealthy young woman busies herself trying to match up her friends and companions with suitable marriage prospects. Bill Nighy plays Emma’s devoted but hypochondriac father with a dryly comical fear of drafts.

The de Wilde film spotlights Emma’s manipulative and self-absorbed meddling. It opens as Emma picks out and then delivers a bouquet of flowers to her governess, who is about to marry. It’s one of many floral images that reflect the director’s emphasis on décor.

Moving to the next matchmaking goal, Emma takes under her wing giggly young Harriet Smith (Mia Goth), who attends a boarding school for indigent girls and adores Emma. When snobbish Emma learns that Robert Martin (Connor Swindells), a farmer besotted with Harriet, has proposed to her, Emma vetoes the match in favor of the local vicar Philip Elton (Josh O’Connor). Her plans go awry once the ingratiating vicar professes his love for Emma, and after she rejects him, he takes a quick and huffy powder. Instead of the vicar, Emma finds the suitably wealthy Frank Churchill appealing.

Every story needs its villain, and Jane Fairfax (Amber Anderson) comes the closest in “Emma.” as the source of our heroine’s competitive jealousy. Although Emma claims to be uninterested in marrying, there’s a serious romantic prospect hanging around. George Knightley (Johnny Flynn), is frequently on the scene and often bickers with the heroine. As Emma bumbles her way through matchmaking mishaps, she begins to realize her limitations and becomes a better person.

In perhaps its greatest assets, “Emma.” has comic touches (like warming her back end at the fireplace), elegant period costumes, gorgeous, high-contrast settings, and modish 18th-century patter. Austen fans will surely enjoy the latest Emma movie.

 

“The Whistlers”

Film buffs in particular will enjoy Romanian writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers.” It is filled with cinematic allusions and satirical takes on the hardboiled detective genre. Two of his earlier films, “The Treasure” and “Police, Adjective,” played at the Film Center. Porumboiu was nominated last year for the Cannes Palme d’Or.

At one point an American filmmaker shows up in this detective thriller looking for a prospective movie set. At another, John Wayne’s “The Searchers” plays at a local theater. The femme fatale (Catrinel Maron) of the genre is named Gilda, with a nudge to Rita Hayworth in the Film Noir of the same title. The soundtrack starts off archly with Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger.”

The well-known Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov plays the film’s film noir detective Cristi, who has traveled from Bucharest to La Gomera in the Canary Islands. The goal is to learn Silbo Gomero, a whistling language spoken there, in order to communicate without being understood by his enemies. In an example of Porumboiu’s tongue-in-cheek approach, Cristi learns whistling by putting his index finger on top of his tongue, pointing it like a gun and then blowing. Think Lauren Bacall in “To Have and Have Not.”

The plot never clarifies who’s in the gangster’s camp, who belongs with the cops. Maybe both, and that’s the point. The provocative Gilda has had a previous relationship with Cristi, and Magda (Rodica Lazar), Cristi’s boss, has a double-edged, although not romantic, relationship with him. The apparent goal is to spring Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), the owner of a money-laundering mattress factory, from jail.

Porumboiu’s films have long explored the nature and problems inherent in communication, and “The Whistlers” is perhaps the most explicit example. In the modern world, cell phones can be compromised and rooms subjected to modern spy technology. As with most films noirs, there are disguises and shoot-’em-ups in “The Whistlers.” And if viewers discount the often confusing plot, they’ll enjoy this movie’s droll humor and movie allusions.

1 COMMENT

  1. Although our screenings of THE WHISTLERS and EMMA were cut short due to our COVID-19 closure when we re-open the MV Film Center we will be bringing these two films back for your enjoyment.

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