Producers: Marcela Mindru Ursu, Patricia Poienaru, Sylvie Pialot, Benoit Quainon, Janine Jackowski, Jonas Dornbach and Maren Ade Director: Corneliu Porumboiu Screenplay: Corneliu Porumboiu Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar, Antonio Bull, Agusti Vollaronga, Sabin Tambrea, Julieta Szönyi, George Pisterneanu, István Teglas, Cristóbal Pinto and Sergiu Costache Distributor: Magnolia Pictures
Acclaimed Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu returns to the world of his well-regarded 2009 “Police, Adjective”—that of law enforcement in modern-day Bucharest.
But there are significant differences. The earlier film was a slow, grim black-and-white procedural about the surveillance of a drug suspect that revealed how the corruption and repression of the old Communist regime continued even after its fall. The new one is deliberately paced as well, and the theme of persistent official malfeasance remains (as does another about language, which is here emphasized even more). But this time around, the film is in color, and adopts the style of a modern noir, with twists and reversals aplenty.
In the first film, the detective at the center of the plot, Cristi, was berated at one point by a superior played by Vlad Ivanov, who accused him of twisting words to fit his own preferred interpretations. In “The Whistlers” Ivanov plays an older, but perhaps no wiser, detective also named Cristi, who is in league with a drug operation involving a mattress factory whose owner, Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), has been stuffing his product with cash for transport for his boss Paco (Agusti Villaronga), who has his headquarters on the La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands.
Under the direction of his imperious boss Magda (Rodica Lazar), Cristi and his bullish young partner Alin (George Pisterneanu) has to entrap Zsolt, and the jailed man’s beautiful girlfriend Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) insists he help free him. Doing so will necessitate a trip to La Gomera, where Poco’s right-hand man Kiko (Antonio Bull) will instruct him in the island’s whistle-language El Silbo Gomero, an important element of Poco’s elaborate plan to rescue Zsolt in order to retrieve the pile of cash the jailed man and Gilda have secreted away.
This précis makes the film sound far more easily followed than it actually is, since the script cuts the various plot elements into pieces and shuffles them around liberally. Though Roxana Szel’s editing tries to keep things clear, some inattentive viewers may be as puzzled about what’s happening as by “The Big Sleep.” And that’s before one considers the side threads Porumboiu adds—one involving Cristi’s sad mother (Julieta Szönyi), who gets her son into trouble without realizing it, and another a motel called Opera, where the clerk (István Teglas) not only plays soprano arias (to educate his clientele, he explains) but has his hand in Zsolt’s business as well. Or the inevitable obsession Cristi develops in Gilda, something that’s inevitable given her name—only one of the allusions to films “The Whistlers” is mimicking.
The result is a movie as intricate as any classic Hollywood noir, and as much fun. The cast play it fort all it’s worth, even though the characters are skin-deep. Ivanov anchors things with a quiet, laid-back performance as Cristi, while Marlon is a slinky seductress and Lazar makes a formidable boss who proves no more incorruptible than her underlings. Among the supporting players Bull is especially ferocious, a perfect contrast to Teglas’ quiet demeanor. Szönyi makes all her moments count.
“The Whistlers” looks great, with cinematographer Tudor Mircea reveling in all the opportunities it offers, not least the scenes set in La Gomera and a flamboyant visual finale in Singapore. But even in the Bucharest sequences, production designer Simona Paduretu does an elegant job, and composer Evgueni Galperine adds to a film in which music plays a significant role in many forms.
“The Whistlers” doesn’t have the depth of “Police, Adjective” even though it shares many of its themes. It’s more of a noir lark, and an enjoyable one that movie buffs in particular should find a treat.