If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle
Drama depicting tensions of prison society from Romanian director
18-year-old Silviu (George Pistereanu) has nine days left to serve of what has been an uneventful, well-behaved prison sentence. When an unexpected visit from his younger brother brings some unwelcome news, Silviu’s previously-held composure begins to waver, and after an encounter with beautiful prison counsellor Ana (Ada Condeescu) he is pushed dangerously close to tipping.
Romanian director and co-writer Florin Serban works hard to ground this story in the details of the inmates’ daily lives, and succeeds in setting up a very believable world. But this approach also unbalances the film; the deliberately-paced first half lays a lot of groundwork in characters that Serban puts aside as the film shifts into the action-oriented second half. One can’t help but be reminded of Jacques Audiard’s masterful prison epic A Prophet, and while Serban’s film is intentionally much smaller in scope, the first-time director’s attempts to depict the tensions of prison society pale in comparison to Audiard’s.
But the film is certainly not without merit; Pistereanu’s lead performance in particular is excellent, and while Silviu’s actions become increasingly irrational the debuting actor is brilliant at showing the often-misguided decision-making going on behind the character’s eyes. In the earlier part of the film Silviu’s silence and stillness give the impression of an ‘old soul’ in a young body, as if his prison time has given him some wisdom, but as he is driven to action – and some effectively shocking violence – that impression falls away and we suddenly see a desperate young man. The film’s curious title is perhaps representative of the modus operandi of this character; he lives from moment to moment, acting on impulse. Serban’s film is as flawed as the bruised character at its centre, but almost as compelling too.