The Whistlers


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

The Whistlers
"The whistling language is fun - and, if anything, disappointingly underused - but it's the language of cinema that Porumboiu is really interested in." | Photo: © Vlad Cioplea

Sometimes, as you watch a film, you can sense the director having a whale of the time - and that's definitely the case with this playful noir-inflected tale of cross and double-cross from Corneliu Porumboiu. I was reminded of the likes of François Ozon's L'Amant Double as Porumboiu turns up the style and twists the plot so hard that you stop worrying about the deeper motivations of the characters - which is just as well, because they don't have any.

Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is a corrupt Romanian cop who is tied up in a money laundering scheme while being well-aware of the fact he's under suspicion himself. To talk about the plot, would be to open up a world of synopsis, so let's just say, there's a woman involved - her name, surely a nod to Charles Vidor's film starring Rita Hayworth, is Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) and she is every inch the femme fatale.

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Gilda ensures Cristi takes a trip to the Canary Island of La Gomera where he learns the whistling language - silbo - that gives the film its English title. Silbo converts Spanish - and in this case Romanian - syllables into whistled bursts which are used to form coded sentences, with Gilda translating Cristi's whistled Romanian to Spanish for the mob while evading police surveillance. The idea is that someone is going to end up with 30 million euro at the end of all this and Porumboiu does a pretty good job of keeping us guessing as to who that will be.

The whistling language is fun - and, if anything, disappointingly underused - but it's the language of cinema that Porumboiu is really interested in. Each character - and there are a host of them - is introduced by a title card in block colours, including blue and yellow (it will come to you as no surprise that Gilda's is red) and that colour then becomes an accented motif for the ensuing segment. Gilda slinks about in a red dress, for example, and later, when we get to the section heralded by a white card marked 'Cristi', her outfit has plenty of that virginal tone. This use of colour coding gives the film a strong sense of cohesion - and allows an epilogue in Singapore's Gardens By The Bay, involving a light show, to feel like a satisfying conclusion. Porumboiu also has fun giving nods to Hitchcock and others along the way, but he never takes himself or his film too seriously. If you don't either, you'll have a blast.

Reviewed on: 07 May 2020
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Film noir sees a corrupt cop learn a whistling language to beat detection while trying to double-cross the mob.
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Director: Corneliu Porumboiu

Writer: Corneliu Porumboiu

Starring: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar

Year: 2019

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: Romania, France, Germany

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If you like this, try:

L'Amant Double