Review by Sean Boelman
Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu, The Whistlers is a new Romanian crime comedy with a unique narrative structure. Thanks to a creative premise, the film manages to overcome its convoluted plot to be a mostly entertaining and intriguing entry into a familiar and overstuffed genre.
The movie follows a policeman who works as a mafia informant, allowing him to play both sides of the law. However, the more interesting aspect of the story involves the protagonist learning the whistling language of the Canary Islands (the original-language title of the film is La Gomera, after the island on which the movie is set) as a means of communicating with his criminal accomplices in code.
The main story of the film is relatively generic, but Porumboiu tells it in an extremely unorthodox and nonlinear way. The structure of the movie is almost reminiscent of Pulp Fiction in that there are individual segments exploring different characters and plot elements, although it is much less effective. Unfortunately, this format will be largely unapproachable for mainstream audiences and will only lead to unnecessary confusion.
That said, this does also allow the film to keep moving at a constant pace. If nothing else, audiences will have their head continuing to spin trying to put everything together. There is never a boring moment in the movie, as viewers have to keep their attention solely on the screen to keep up with the mystery.
The character development in the film is also a bit disappointing. Although the comedic edge that the movie has implies that this is going to be a tongue-in-cheek riff of genre tropes, it isn’t quite self-aware enough to be effective in this regard. For example, the main female character of the film is a pretty traditional femme fatale with very little done to give her a substantial arc.
That said, all of the actors do a very good job. The leads, Vlad Ivanov and Catrinel Marlon, have great chemistry together. The movie works best in the introduction before the additional levels of storytelling come into play, but this relationship is an effective and constant force for the entirety of the film.
On a technical level, Porumboiu’s movie is very strong, with an emphasis put on aesthetics. The cinematography is often gorgeous, creating an excellent contrast between the rough and gritty settings of urban Romania and the beautiful and picturesque scenery of the Canary Islands. The film’s use of sound is also quite good, the bird songs that inspired the whistling language often serving as a background.
The Whistlers has a very strong premise and some phenomenal execution, but the narrative structure keeps the movie from being as successful as it could have been. Still, the film is worth watching if only because of Porumboiu’s level of ambition.
The Whistlers is now playing in theaters.