The Whistlers (3 stars)

The Whistlers

Stylish if derivative thriller which brings some interesting elements to the traditional noir template

Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu (12:08 East of Bucharest; Police, Adjective) wades into classic film noir territory with The Whistlers, a flinty thriller that evokes the glory days of B-movie titans like Sam Fuller or André De Toth. The pulpy mixture of corrupt cops, alluring femme fatales, intricate flashbacks, torn loyalties and double-dealing crooks is familiar to the point of cliché, but there are enough original elements and effective set-pieces to satisfy fans of hardboiled crime yarns.

The fresh sheen to the tried and trusted ingredients comes in the setting of La Gomera, the 'pearl' of the Spanish Canary Islands, and in the use of el silbo, a secret whistling language used by the local shepherds. Policeman Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) arrives on the island and is set the task of mastering el silbo, a language that converts vowels and consonants into something close to birdsong. Cristi is a central figure in an elaborate plan to free a Bucharest businessman who might be the key to uncovering millions in hidden cash.

Flashbacks fill in some of the missing pieces of the puzzle and the relationship between Cristi and the mysterious Gilda (Catrinel Marlon). They also underline the sense that nobody can be trusted in this dog-eat-dog enterprise, painting the passive, deadpan Cristi as a doomed figure in the tradition of countless 1940s film noir saps.

Underpinning the chess game moves of the scenario is an attempt to scrape away the masks of the main players and expose some of the loneliness and vulnerability that motivates them. Despite those efforts, The Whistlers remains a film where the style outweighs the substance. The whole thing really comes alive when Porumboiu lets the action do the talking – in the tense mountaintop test of Cristi's whistling skills, or the heat of a shadowy, guns blazing stand-off.

Available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 8 May.

The Whistlers

  • 3 stars
  • 2019
  • Romania / France / Germany / Sweden
  • 1h 37min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Corneliu Porumboiu
  • Cast: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Rodica Lazar
  • UK release: 26 June 2020

A policeman learns a new language to help free a crooked businessman from prison.