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AFI EU Showcase: The Whistlers
75%Overall Score

BYT film critics will cover films that are part of the AFI EU Showcase, a Euro-centric festival happening at AFI Silver. We’re covering this on a rolling basis, so check back soon.

In The Whistlers, writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu’s take on corrupt cop stories and noir tropes is as weird as it is inventive. Crooked police inspector Cristi (a wonderfully droll and unshakable Vlad Ivanov) attempts to get an equally corrupt businessman out of jail from a prison on the Canary Islands. But for Cristi to do this, he must learn a local language made entirely of whistling. This ingenious way of communicating helps criminals navigate around the cops without them knowing any better. Cristi’s journey leads him into double-crosses, plenty of danger and Gilda (a star-making performance by Catrinel Marlon), a brilliant femme fatale.

The Whistlers is packed with supporting characters, flashbacks and stories that are always more than they seem, yet it’s watching Cristi and Gilda and their deceptive ways that makes this such a compelling film. Especially in the film’s third act, Porumboiu take this dense story and simplify it by ultimately making Cristi and Gilda the only two that truly matter. Thanks to Ivanov’s stoic performance and the electric presence of Marlon, Porumboiu makes the audience care about these two, despite the shifting allegiances and uncertain motivations that are constantly in question.

Despite the unusual way of conversing, The Whistlers could’ve used more jokes, particularly when it comes to this new language. This idea might seem ripe for dark comedy, but Porumboiu more or less takes it completely seriously, with a few absurd exceptions. Instead, Porumboiu finds its humor in the ludicrous nature of Cristi’s adventure. At one point, the set up for a heist is put on hold while a location scout (for a film within a film) comes to check out the headquarters. Even the beginning of the film, which shows Cristi arriving at the islands set to Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” immediately imbues a lighter tone than the film actually has.

With The Whistlers, Porumboiu has made an interesting, twisty neo-noir with a dark wit that keeps the audience guessing until the very last shot.

The Whistlers screens on Friday, December 13, at 7:30pm, and on Tuesday, December 17, at 7:15pm. Buy tickets here!