THE WHISTLERS (2020)
Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Agustí Villaronga, Sabin Tambrea, Cristóbal Pinto, George Pistereanu
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu takes police corruption and layers it with a tribal aesthetic for a fresh approach to the genre as an inspector from Bucharest named Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) plays both sides of the law in this jailbreak mafia film that includes a beautiful accomplice (Catrinel Marlon), a high-stakes heist, and a secret whistling language. With a neo-noir feel “The Whistlers” is the latest entry in the Romanian New Wave.
You may know him as Bebe, the frightening abortionist in 2007’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” or maybe you’ve seen him a number of international films including Maren Ade’s “Toni Erdmann,” Bong Joon-Ho’s “Snowpiercer,” or Cristi Mungiu’s “Graduation,” but Vlad Ivanov, a key player in the New Wave movement, is back with another terrific performance. Ivanov has the ability to immerse himself completely in a role and become a specific character without relying on makeup to complete a transformation. He can look the same in three different films and yet there is no traces of any of the other characters he’s played.
Porumboiu’s 2009 film “Police, Adjective” in which Ivanov plays Captain Anghelache is another one of the actor’s memorable roles and I am also partial to his performance in the 2018 Hungarian drama “Sunset.” The film by László Nemes received mixed reviews for its vague narrative, but I thought it was compelling based partly on Ivanov’s portrayal of hat store owner Oszkár Brill.
“The Whistlers” begins with corrupt narcotics cop Cristi arriving in the Canary Islands after traveling from Bucharest to learn the ancient whistling language El Silbo, or Silbo Gomero. It’s been used by the indigenous population on the island of La Gomera for ages as a way to communicate a great distance over the island’s ravines and valleys. To make matters more complicated, Cristi needs to learn the variations of El Silbo since it’s whistled in different languages including Romanian and Spanish.
The timeline jumps around as Porumboiu uses flashbacks to explain Cristi’s involvement with Romanian drug smugglers and money launderers who are forcing the crooked cop to learn El Silbo so they can use it as a code to throw off his police colleagues while helping the mobsters break an associate named Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea) out of jail.
Catrinel Marlon plays the femme fatale as Gilda, who becomes Cristi’s partner and associate but as the story develops her character undergoes a metamorphosis that begins long before the current jail break caper. You can see how the neo-noir theme comes into play as “The Whistlers” becomes the closest thing to a Hollywood thriller ever achieved by Porumboiu.
The cinematography by Tudor Mircea is splendid to look at and while the film layers on the mystery it’s also funny with unexpected moments of domestic familiarity that include Iggy Pop and John Wayne.
(3 ½ stars)
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