Surveillance, backstabbing, robberies, and of course…whistling – what else
would you expect from a modern-day film noir? Well writer/director Corneliu
Porumboiu gives us all of this and more in The Whistlers.
Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), a narcotics detective, gets pulled into
a seedy web of crime – and at the center of it is a group of mobsters. He is
taken to the island of La Gomera in the Spanish Canary islands to learn a secret
whistling language known as Silbo Gomero (which actually exists!). Silbo Gomero
essentially translates Spanish into a series of whistles, and they go even
further in The Whistlers by adding Romanian characters to it as well.
The goal is to help mob boss Paco (Agustí Villaronga) get his right-hand
man Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) out of prison. Of course, Cristi and his fellow police
officers are the ones that framed and arrested Zsolt in the first place for drugs
and money laundering, but that’s neither here nor there.
powerful woman who knows how to use her wits and looks to make men do what she
pleases. She toes the line and at any moment it can never be clear whose side she is on – the only thing we know is she always has her own best
interests at heart. Gilda and Kiko (Antonio Buíl) struggle teaching
Cristi the whistling language in a series of humorous, almost slapstick like, scenes
that show his knowledge of Silbo Gomero progressing. Back home in Romania Cristi’s
every move is being scrutinized by his hawk of a boss Magda (Rodica Lazar) – both
literally and figuratively as she has ordered surveillance to be placed on
Cristi by Alin (George Pistereanu), a fellow narcotics officer whom she
actually trusts. Cristi must juggle relationships on both sides of the law –
thinking he’s in control, but with such delicate relationships, it’s tough to
tell who actually is.
Whistlers that is a good person. The cops are corrupt, the criminals are…well
criminals. The police are working with the criminals and backstabbing each other
– no one knows who they can actually trust. It’s a twisted web of lies and
conspiracies and one that causes the film to become murky and confusing.
We go back and forth through time, jumping from La Gomera to Romania and even making
a stop in Singapore. This shifting and hopping leads the narrative to become difficult to follow. Yet no matter where or when in the film, an underlying question remains – when even the supposed good guys are breaking the rules, who do
you root for?
with the music and cinematography leading the charge. Porumboiu makes numerous interesting stylistic choices and his sense of timing and pace results in some
truly hilarious moments throughout the film. Porumboiu also makes nods to classic
films from the past, including a glaringly obvious one to Psycho – that did
not go unnoticed or unappreciated. The entire film seems to be made up of dichotomies
– the good guys and bad guys, loud blaring music immediately followed by
deafening silence, the music itself ranging from Iggy Pop’s The Passenger to
Opera, the paradise of the Canary Islands to the bleak and cold Romania. Yet these
dichotomies start to blend – yes, the Canary Islands are gorgeous, but once you
realize your phone is being tapped and people are watching you, can you enjoy paradise;
and what do you do when those in a position to uphold the law are the ones
skirting it themselves? Porumboiu weaves an interesting tale in The
Whistlers, however it does become a little too convoluted at times which takes
away from the film. All in all, there is enough here to make it worthy of a
watch, but I’d wait for a Netflix release.