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CANNES 2019 Competition

Review: The Whistlers

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- CANNES 2019: In his playful new film, Corneliu Porumboiu starts with Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger”, and then he rides and he rides – all the way to the Canary Islands

Review: The Whistlers

At this point, there is frankly no way of knowing what Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu might be cooking up next. Last seen discussing “infinite football” concepts in an odd documentary of the same name, in his Cannes Film Festival main competition entry The Whistlers [+see also:
trailer
interview: Corneliu Porumboiu
film profile
]
, he now turns his attention to Cristi (Vlad Ivanov, who might look a bit like an annoyed Michael Keaton had one forgotten one’s glasses), a shady police officer from Bucharest trying to free an even shadier businessman from prison. This ambitious undertaking apparently requires him to: a) accidentally bed a beautiful woman; and b) get to a Canary Island known for its secret whistling language, which he then has to master. Mostly it’s to confuse other cops already on his trail, but it’s also because it sounds like the best idea anyone has ever come up with.

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Unlike some of his gloomier buddies from the Romanian New Wave, Porumboiu is no stranger to funny – in 2015’s The Treasure [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Corneliu Porumboiu
interview: Corneliu Porumboiu
film profile
]
alone, he had grown men entrusting their futures to a metal detector. But here, he really strikes comedy gold, as a rather unconventional (and very real) method of communication known as the Silbo Gomero is, at least when taught to a complete amateur with a finger stuck in his mouth and no clue at all, a truly hilarious concept. Not to mention one that’s bound to inspire some people in the coming days – especially the ones standing in those never-ending festival queues – to try it themselves. As for the story itself, well, it kind of whistles away, but still makes for a pleasant enough watch as the characters – introduced via colourful title cards – conduct their very own version of a “heist for dummies”.

But Cristi is no Danny Ocean, that much is painfully apparent, and has only the bare bones of an idea of how to come out of the whole endeavour alive as others play him any which way they want. Still, it’s a pity that for all its sparky, retro vibe and potential mischief stemming from the entire cops-and-whistling-robbers combination, the whole thing also feels a tad old-fashioned in all the wrong places, with the camera practically drooling all over Catrinel Marlon’s frequently exposed curves, as if trying to loudly repeat that cheeky “You shouldn’t dress like that; you shouldn’t wear that body” comment from Body Heat.

That sweaty neo-noir is not the only film that comes to mind here, as Porumboiu grabs as many references as he can and runs away, occasionally dropping some hints, with Marlon’s devious stunner named Gilda, a rather delightful Psycho gag and a lengthy scene seemingly orchestrated just to celebrate John Wayne’s best-ever role. Where Ford had his Searchers, Porumboiu now has his Whistlers, and while it’s unlikely that his somewhat frothy movie will ever reach a similar stature, at least he probably enjoyed himself more.

The Whistlers, written by Corneliu Porumboiu, was produced by Romania’s 42 Km Film, France’s Les films du Worso and German outfit Komplizen Film, in co-production with ARTE France Cinéma, WDR, Film i Väst, Filmgate Films and Studioul de Creatie Cinematografica. It was made in association with ARTE France and MK2 Films, and MK2 also has the international rights.

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