NYFF Review: 'The Whistlers' Is a Fun, Twisty Ride of Double-Crosses

Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

Starring Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Agusti Villaronga

BY Mila MatveevaPublished Oct 8, 2019

Corneliu Porumboiu returns with The Whistlers, a genre mashup that's equal parts noir, western, and heist film, and possibly his most widely accessible work, one that threatens to entertain audiences beyond fans of the Romanian New Wave. "The Passenger," the Iggy Pop song from 1977, is the perfect needle drop introduction to make sure we know the kind of ride we are in for: exciting, a little seductive, but never too dark, at least at surface level.
The anti-hero on our voyage is Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), a detached police detective in Bucharest who doesn't seem bothered about ethics either way, and works with the mob on the side. A conspiratorial proposition from sultry Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) has Cristi less bewitched than simply amenable for any thrill in his life. Suddenly, he is whisked away to one of the Canary Islands to learn a little-known whistling language that will be the secret weapon in a diabolical plan to get a drug kingpin out of lockup.
Porumboiu's Police, Adjective from 2009, which also starred Ivanov, explored language as well, but here, the focus is on a hyper-local communication tool that gives Cristi the upper hand in a constant state of surveillance. The twists and turns remain fun while keeping the stakes relatively high, Porumboiu making sure we are never bored or fully know who's double-crossing whom. Power plays get more interesting as characters like Cristi's equally corrupt police chief boss Magda (Rodica Lazar) are thrown in the mix, the film's chapters literally broken up by each character's part in this story.
Tongue-in-cheek humour and John Ford references are used to elevate the film from confinement to a single genre. Before you know it, you aren't sure what side Cristi is on, but just when you think you've outsmarted his fate, you remember the song that started this whole thing: "Oh, the passenger / He rides and he rides / He sees things from under glass / He looks through his window's eye / He sees the things he knows are his."

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