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The Whistlers review – a smart, self-aware noir concerning a crooked cop | reviews, news & interviews

The Whistlers review – a smart, self-aware noir concerning a crooked cop

The Whistlers review – a smart, self-aware noir concerning a crooked cop

Playful and cunningly crafted neo-noir is a delight from start to finish

Catrinel Marlon in The Whistlers

Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu has made a career crafting perceptive and cerebral examinations of his native country. From his 2006 debut 12:08 to Bucharest to The Treasure, they were cerebral films that powerfully embodied the Romanian New Wave. 

With his latest film The Whistlers, Porumboiu shows he’s capable of being both a brilliant filmmaker and playful at the same time. It’s an impish noir thriller, full of femme fatales, crooked cops and sun-drenched islands. 

We begin on the island of La Gomera, the pearl of the Canary Islands. Crooked narc Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) has arrived to meet up with the mob and, more esoterically, learn the island’s native whistling language, ‘el silbo’ - once used by locals to pass messages from valley to valley, now co-opted by the mafia to launder €30 million in drug money. Vlad Ivanov is crooked cop CristiThen we are cast back in time and to a new location, Bucharest, where Cristi is met by a beautiful stranger, Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), who pretends to be a prostitute whilst passing on information about this business opportunity. Why does Gilda pretend to be a hooker? Because Cristi’s apartment is bugged with cameras, by his own boss, Magda (Rodica Lazar) who believes Cristi might not always play on the right side of the law. 

Then we’re back in the sun, along with a cohort of thugs, including Kiko who’s teaching Cristi to whistle properly by sticking his finger in his mouth like he’s holding a gun, sucking in his lips, and blowing from his stomach. It’s at once comical and mesmerising. 

The script becomes denser. Everyone is potentially double, even triple-crossing, one another. It’s hard to keep up, but your mind never wanders. Our attention is held by the tight, snappy edit, punchy performances and slick production values. Plus, this is a film for film lovers. There are nods and winks to Hitchcock (a particularly brilliant twist on Psycho is a highlight), a touch of Carol Reed, and a lot of Lynch – which is a heady mix in anyone’s book. 

Then there’s Vlad Ivanov, who we’ve seen before in a Porumboiu film, Police Adjective (2009). There, he starred opposite Dragos Bucur, a character also called Cristi, who – it would be safe to assume – is a younger embodiment of the crooked cop we are watching in The Whistlers. Ivanov is rarely a leading man, but he should be. There’s a heady blend of JK Simmond’s intensity with the wryness of Stellan Skarsgaard, and you just want to watch more and more of him. 

Smart, well structured, and slick, The Whistlers is the film you should make someone watch who has said Romanian cinema isn’t for them.


It’s an impish noir thriller, full of femme fatales, crooked cops and sun-drenched islands


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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