DIRECTOR CORNELIU PORUMBOIU
CAST VLAD IVANOV, RODICA LAZAR, CATRINEL MARLON
ROMANIA 2020, CERT 15, 97 MINS
REVIEW SUSAN GRAY
Life is like a box of chocolates, and The Whistlers lays out all your cinematic favourite centres in the top tier. From the first frame we feast on film references from Battle for Algiers to Hitchcock, via the Carry Ons. But Corneliu Porumboiu’s thriller is so much more than arthouse celluloid bingo, it is also a meditation on surveillance society and morality, with a lovely top layer of religious symbolism.
Romanian actor Vlad Ivanov plays Cristi a bent cop with a porridge complexion, and terrible line in grey suits and V necks. Luminous former model Cartinel Marlon is Gilda, a crime lord’s girlfriend, and Cristi’s crush: the one element in his life he elevates above a square shouldered, world weary cynicism. Marlon’s performance is as poised and sensuous, as Ivanov’s is solid and contained.
Cristi and Gilda’s pursuit of €20 million drugs money, stuffed in mattresses, takes them on a journey as twisty as a Balkan mountain road, as the narrative switches between drab Bucharest and sun drenched Gomera in the Canaries. On the island Porumboiu make splendid use of the contrast between the relaxed, care free atmosphere of holiday destinations and the ruthless, brutal codes of the drugs gang, toggling from one to the other in a split second. What The Whistlers lacks in lavish budgets for car chases and special effects explosions, it more than makes up for in clever sequencing, and multifaceted points of view.
Gomera in the Canaries is the home of an ancient shepherds’ whistling language, and Cristi is summoned by the mob to the island to learn to communicate in birdlike Silbo. It is worth suspending disbelief about whether in a world of closed circuit TV, burner phones, double crossing and corruption, the logical answer to all problems must be learning to whistle. The Whistlers writes no cheques it cannot cash.
The splintered narrative flips expectations on their head from beginning to end, with traditionally backroom, low status and side kick characters being handed agency and crucial plot turning points.
Religious symbolism is layered throughout the film, with door knocks, bribes and most of all the repetition of Faure’s In Paradisum, used as counterpoint to the action, then shockingly for emphasis.
The Whistlers is a fast paced noir, paying its dues to the atmospheric 1950s crime novels of Eric Ambler and Peter Cheyne one minute, and the found footage horror movies of the late ‘90s the next. The flawed but relatable Christi and Gilda, are supported by well-drawn supporting female characters in Christi’s mother and his scheming prosecutor boss Magda. And stay tuned for the redemptive ending, bathing the ambiguity and queasiness of the preceding action in a whole new light.