The Whistlers – FNC 2019 Review

After surfing on a career high as one of the primary leaders of the Romanian New Wave, Corneliu Porumboiu has been changing the game with films such as The Treasure and Police, Adjective since 06’. The 44-year old director is an experimenter of sorts, an auteur who constantly plays with audience expectations, genre-tropes, and the most sinister depths of the human connection. His latest film The Whistlers, is an abrupt change of pace in comparison to his previous feature Infinite Football, a micro-sized documentary on the obsessions with strict guidelines and sports ethics. Fitting perfectly into the shoes of a Romanian Guy Ritchie, The Whistlers is an ultra-stylish, painfully pulp and confused genre piece of mobster-monopolized idiocy. 

On paper, Porumboiu’s screenplay about corrupt cops, laundered drug money, and an ambiguous whistling language that is used uniquely between thugs and other crooked convicts, is a fun concept that contains a lot of potential. Unfortunately, we got something completely different. Merging timelines, a bland protagonist, weak motivations, and a confused continuous series of senseless violent assaults and pointless sub-plots; it’s difficult to really care about anything that’s going on in the film. Everything is heightened, to the moment where when the stakes and consequences actually come to fruition, there’s not much of a satisfying payoff to compliment the films viscous cinematic escapades.

Yet my gripes with The Whistlers is more so a larger problem on an international stage. Films that have been labeled as “crime-based features” in the past decade, have frequently missed the mark on what’s truly important to the final product; the relevance of character development and consistent plot progression. While there’s the occasional exception, most newbie filmmakers to the genre tend to focus on the objective of the crime itself, rather than caring for the surrounding elements.

Montages of tiresome scheme preparations with loud rock music can be fun every once and while, but there’s a certain breaking point where every viewer needs to face. Why tell the same story over and over again, if there’s not much of a purpose to said narrative to begin with? Cautionary tales of violence and corruption only work if there’s a clear punch; a direct call-out to the sinful acts of bombastic bloodshed. The Whistlers misses this margin, as it presents itself with an aimless thread of rudimentary commentary, that lacks the understanding of the corrupt nature of eastern European politics. 

Stripping the technical merits and the occasional fine one-liner aside, The Whistlers just feels like a whole lot of nothing. It attempts at creating a reason for it’s own existence, by borrowing some familiar themes and plot constructs from other films. The problem is that the end result is slight and scattered in comparison with it’s influences. No matter how clever your Hitchcock reference can possibly be, it just doesn’t excuse lazy, time-consuming storytelling.

The Whistlers screened at this year’s Festival Du Nouveau Cinema. Magnolia Entertainment will release the film in select cinemas on February 28th. The film is Romania’s official submission for this year’s 91st Academy Awards.

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