An inventive, darkly comedic, and assuredly entertaining neo-noir, Romanian filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Whistlers takes an unusual concept and weaves it into one of the most memorable and satisfying mysteries of the year.
Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is a corrupt cop from Bucharest who’s about to see the biggest score of his career go up in smoke when his criminal contact, Zslot (Sabin Tambrea, playing a ghoulish looking businessman), is pinched and shipped off to a prison in the Canary Islands. Zslot is the only person who knows the whereabouts of a mattress stuffed with thirty million Euros in stolen Venezuelan drug money. Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), Zslot’s girlfriend, has a plan, but she needs Cristi’s help. Cristi comes to the Canary Islands and is told that he has to learn “El Siblo,” an indigenous language comprised only of whistling. With this unusual form of speech, they can communicate plans to each other away from the prying eyes and ears of the police, who are rapidly closing in on Cristi, Gilda, and their accomplices. If they do things right, the cops will write off the noise as mere bird calls.
While Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) pokes some subtle fun at his outlandish plot machinations, The Whistlers plays its largely sun drenched noir with a fair degree of seriousness. A lot of the storytelling specifics are made up of reliable standbys, with plenty of twists, reveals, obscured truths, double crosses, and scenes where people try to circumvent cameras and wiretaps, but it’s all effective thanks to Porumboiu’s tightly written, time shifting narrative that also makes room for some pointed commentary about corruption in post-Communist Eastern Europe. The whistling gimmick might add some extra spice and novelty, but Proumboiu’s latest is best viewed as a solid piece of entertainment that throws a lot at the viewer without over-explaining things.