The Whistlers




A film quite uncharacteristic of Romania's Corneliu Porumboiu.

Whistlers, The

Vlad Ivanov


When this film was screened at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival all of the critics agreed that it marked a total break in style from the previous works of its writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu. But there was no consensus as to whether or not it succeeded with hostile responses probably outweighing favourable ones. Now that The Whistlers is available to us we can decide for ourselves while comparing it with its immediate predecessor, Infinite Football, a far more characteristic piece which has also just reached us.


In part The Whistlers takes place in Bucharest but La Gomera, an island in the Canaries, is also a key location and this marks it as the Romanian filmmaker's first venture outside his own country. But the real change lies in the nature of the story that he has written: forsaking his frequently minimalistic approach, he gives us a tale involving policemen and crooks in which no one can be trusted and everybody seems to be in quest of missing money from a drug deal. It's a contemporary tale but the complexity of it all has encouraged some critics to link it with classics written by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.


However, if that suggests that The Whistlers is sufficiently mainstream to appeal to lovers of standard commercial thrillers, it is misleading. They will be at ease with the film's leading character, a cop less than incorruptible whose loyalties are uncertain. This is Cristi played by Vlad Ivanov who has a strong presence and equally the other main figure, a mysteries femme fatale named Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), will appeal to them as they ask if this woman to whom Cristi is attracted is really somebody acting for those out to get him. Admittedly it is the case that some confusion in film noir thrillers is accepted (after all Chandler as the author of The Big Sleep famously admitted to being baffled regarding the identity of a killer in it). However, in this instance the complexity of the plotting, added to by the film not always functioning chronologically, will leave many viewers frustrated. The pointless division of the movie into named chapters isn't helpful either.


That said, The Whistlers, despite taking its plot seriously and not as tongue-in cheek parody, is a playful work and the sense of fun that Porumboiu had in making it is conveyed. This includes the use of music ranging from opera (Offenbach's The Tales of Hoffmann provides a virtual theme tune) to Kurt Weill's 'Mack the Knife'. Furthermore, there is a knowing use of cinema references both in the locations used (a cinema screening The Searchers, an abandoned film set) and through echoes of specific films, e.g. the name of Gilda and a motel scene reminding one of Psycho. Hitchcock comes to mind again with this film's use of a language that substitutes whistling for words in order to pass secret messages. As befits Porumboiu's known fascination with language, this is no invention but something that actually exists (it's particular to the island and is called Silbo Gomero). Nevertheless, it is equally apt that it brings to mind the coded message contained in a musical theme which features so strongly in The Lady Vanishes. The Whistlers is an oddity and far from being a wholly satisfactory one, but it is not without its pleasures.


Original title: La Gomera.




Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Agustí Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, István Téglás, Cristóbel Pinto, Antonio Buil, George Pistereanu.


Dir Corneliu Porumboiu, Pro Patricia Poienaru and Marcela Ursu, Screenplay Corneliu Porumboiu, Ph Tudor Mircea, Pro Des Simona Paduretu, Ed Roxana Szel, Costumes Dana Paparuz.


42Km Film/Les Films du Worso/Komplizen Film/Arte France Cinéma/Film i Väst-Curzon Artificial Eye.
97 mins. Romania/France/Germany/Sweden. 2019. Rel: 8 May 2020. Available on Curzon Home Cinema. Cert. 15.