It’s easy to get tripped up on the intricate plot of Corneliu Porumboiu’s Romanian crime noir The Whistlers, which recently became available for streaming on Hulu. The film isn’t interested in emphasizing the details of the story. Instead, it places its focus on the movie’s characters and their reactions to the unknown. An auteurist take on a mainstream crime film that takes inspiration from early ’40s noir and Bond-style action, the complicated plot creates an engaging yet utterly confusing film experience.
The Whistlers begins with Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), an older police detective who is tasked with traveling to the Canary Islands to help a crime boss get a businessman out of jail. Yes, Cristi is working for both the crime boss and the police department, allowing for the complex narrative to set itself up almost immediately. There he meets Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), who also gets swept up into the double-crossing underworld, especially after the audience learns more about her own motivations.
Marlon is strong as the “femme fatale” archetype, crafting a performance that melds well with the enigmatic tone of the film. Rodica Lazar also does a fantastic job as Madga, a smart head detective whose precision and competence make her a fascinating character.
Audience members will be impressed with The Whistlers’ dazzling editing style. Jumping back and forth in time and between Bucharest and the beautifully tropical Canary Islands, many scenes include very little dialogue, as if Porumboiu skips to the next scene just before the audience is supposed to learn something important. While it certainly creates tension by consistently withholding vital information from the audience, Poromboiu’s dependence on the “show-don’t-tell” technique only exacerbates the murkiness of the plotline. Nevertheless, the editing allows for the movie to rush by at a blazing pace. By constantly switching scenes, there’s not enough time for viewers to reflect on what they don’t know, only enough to continue consuming what’s on the screen.
Then there’s the whole theme of whistling itself. Cristi must learn the whistling language native to the Canary Islands. Based on Spanish, the entire language can be communicated and understood solely through whistling, and several characters use it to secretly converse with each other, especially Gilda and Cristi. The whistling is the linchpin of the plot, a symbol of the ambiguous nature of each character. And of course, Porumboiu throws in plenty of songs that incorporate whistling into the soundtrack. He even includes a clip of John Wayne whistling in an old movie, further hinting at the importance of whistling and its hidden meaning.
The movie is more impressive in its sense of creative narrative than it is wildly entertaining. By the end, enough is clear to roughly figure out what happened over the course of the film. Despite being difficult to follow, the film is sure to entertain, as long as you’re able to keep your eyes on the screen and away from your phone. But even then, you might struggle to understand what’s really going on.
Featured image courtesy of Hulu