This crime thriller from Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu, who won prizes at Cannes Film Festival for his 2009 black comedy Police, Adjective, is an intricate jigsaw puzzle of a film. By the end, you probably won’t feel as though you’ve assembled a complete picture, but that’s only because Porumboiu keeps some key pieces hidden even to the end.
The Whistlers begins with an apprehensive-looking middle-aged man (Vlad Ivanov) arriving on the remote Spanish island of La Gomera; Iggy Pop‘s ‘The Passenger’, a song familiar from countless other films, provides the soundtrack. It’s perhaps the first knowing wink from Poromboui in a film that likes to playfully remind us it’s a film: one tense scene takes place on an abandoned movie set.
The man is then driven to a secluded villa where he meets a beautiful younger woman (Catrinel Marlon) who tells him to “forget what happened in Bucharest” because she “did it for the surveillance cameras”. Before we have time to contemplate what “it” might have been, Porumboiu shifts back in time to their previous meeting. We learn the woman is named Gilda and she wants the man, Cristi, who appears to be a corrupt cop, to help extricate her drug lord boyfriend Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) from jail.
We also learn that Gilda is quick-thinking and incredibly determined: when Cristi warns her that his flat is being surveilled, she hatches a plan on the spot to pose as a high-class hooker so no one will guess who she really is. After sleeping with Cristi in full view of the cameras, she persuades him to visit La Gomera so he can learn “el silbo”, a whistled version of Spanish that allows messages to be exchanged in code over long distances. This skill will become vital to Cristi later on.
We never find out how Cristi became involved in this murky world – only that he’s a disappointment to his God-fearing mother – and it’s difficult to tell if he’s ever really in control of his situation. Is he playing seemingly honourable mob boss Paco (Agustí Villaronga), who promises him a cut of Zsolt’s cash, or his police chief Magda (Rodica Lazar), who’s the one having him surveilled and not immune to a dodgy deal of her own.
Ultimately Porumboiu’s film is a complex but concise succession of double bluffs, dubious deals and difficult-to-predict characters – some of whom are also pretty thinly drawn, it has to be said. It’s all so ambiguous that you might leave The Whistlers worrying you missed something – or quite a few things – along the way. But even so, there’s something strangely satisfying about the way Porumboiu pulls you towards his unexpectedly dazzling final scene.
- Director: Corneliu Porumboiu
- Starring: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar
- Released: May 8 (VOD)
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