Direct from Romania, The Whistlers is a multilingual crime thriller reminiscent of Guy Ritchie’s best work, albeit a bit more subdued and less humorous. The film follows Cristi (Vlad Ivanov, Snowpiercer), a Romanian police officer who travels to the Canary Islands to learn the Silbo Whistle, a wordless form of Spanish that allows for communication across great distances. Over time, the purpose of these lessons is revealed — and proves deliciously complicated.
Writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu (whose previous narrative feature, Treasure, was awarded an Un Certain Regard prize at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival) throws viewers into the plot midstory and slowly feeds us subtle hints to help piece together the full picture. In typical gangster movie fashion, The Whistlers keeps us guessing about whom to trust and the identities of the inevitable double-crossers.
However, unlike classic heist movies, it doesn’t spoon-feed viewers the verdicts. The clues remain sparse and subtle enough to keep conclusions foggy, and the storytelling maintains some sizable gaps in the timeline until the very end. This approach requires audiences to pay close attention, a commitment that’s rewarded via Porumboiu’s carefully composed shots and breadcrumb trail of mini-payoffs — though viewers accustomed to straightforward storytelling are likely to feel frustrated.
The film divides the story into chapters, each one separated by a colorful title card with the name of the character who’s about to be featured. While cult classics like Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction famously employ different perspectives to tell complex tales, The Whistlers creatively diverges from this trope by maintaining a linear timeline, refusing to backtrack to fill in gaps. Still, answers are provided, often indirectly through dialogue or by the camera, leaving viewers to solve the riddles themselves. Look away from the subtitles or subtle visual cues for a moment and you run the risk of missing an essential connecting puzzle piece.
The Whistlers is a film for those who enjoy such challenges and don’t mind feeling a little lost early and often. My only complaint is that some of the loyalties formed among characters seem a little nonsensical given the background we are presented, and some stronger character development could have cleared up the reasoning behind these alliances.
But in our current trying times of self-quarantine due to COVID-19, the prospect of a little long-distance whistling to keep in touch without actually touching feels increasingly appealing, making Porumboiu’s film an unexpectedly hyperrelevant experience.
Now available to rent via fineartstheatre.com and grailmoviehouse.com