“The Whistlers” (Romania) – 55th Chicago Film Festival #1

“The Whistlers” (Romania)
Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu

whistlers 2Italian thrillers are an odd lot. Filled with humor, an interesting procedural, good (and occasionally exceptional) performances and beautiful locales. But when all is said and done, I always leave feeling more like a witnessed a pleasant trifle as opposed to a really good film. The most recent example being Roberto Ando’s “The Stolen Carravaggio” (which is an outlier in that it has stuck with me in a way that most have not). Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers” ticks off all of the above, except one…it’s not Italian. This in no way disqualifies it from this manner of examination, because, except for its language, you might think it came straight from Cinecittà.

The film’s strongest attribute is its dialogue. Sparsely used, as one would imagine for a film that revolves around whistling, the words are specific, plot-pushing, and hurl well-written insults. Equally constructive is its use of time shifting. Never confusing, you always know where you are, which aids Director Porumboiu, in his attempts to create a wonderful shell. The world these people live in, and the stakes invested, are fully realized, and, by adding more than a few moments of humor, it never becomes maudlin or dull. But, alas, all that wonderful set-up merely leads to a passive shrug, when it should, at the very least, be a “huh, wasn’t expecting that”! Or even better, “wow!” Worst of all, the central concept – the thing that purports to make it unique – is used passingly…so much so, I thought, why bother?

The leads are fine, Vlad Ivanov plays the role with enough cop-like stoicism necessary to pull off his place in the goings-on. And Catrinel Marlon, is the perfect combination of vulnerability and vinegar – and gorgeous. But, just as in the best Italian capers, it’s the minor characters that we remember most, and here, Antonio Buíl steals the show. Dangerous, impatient, funny, and horrid, he lights up the screen every time. Finally, Julieta Szönyi does a terrific job as a doting, and confused mother.

The production elements are not particularly notable, but the music is. Using a opera arias, wonderful pieces of classical music and pop music from all over the world, it might be the best thing about the film, and often plays a central part of the plot. And Marco Betta’s score builds on these selections effectively.

Look, it’s not bad. In fact, it’s pretty okay. Just don’t expect a whole helluva lot and you might leave with a smile. Me? I left with a shrug…which is too bad. It could have been a real dandy caper.

(no trailer…only teasers, which, are by their nature, spoilers.)

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