It is amazing how complicated heist movies can be. That’s their nature. Pulling a gun and asking for money doesn’t really make for a movie plot. But if you can steal something through various steps, and then twist things up with double and triple crosses, you have a story that even when we aren’t sure what’s happening, we want to see how it all works. The Romanian film The Whistlers from writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu is such a film. The Whistlers was Romania’s submission for Oscar consideration last year.
We first meet Cristi on his way to the Canary Islands. Here he reconnects with Gilda, an archetypical femme fatale. What we will discover little by little, is that Cristi is a corrupt police officer. He has been recruited by a gang of criminals to help a prisoner to escape. For this plan to work he must learn a whistling language used by criminals. (Yes, there really is such a language.)
Also, little by little we learn the background is that the gang has been laundering money through a mattress factory in Romania. They want their money. But when police begin to close in on the factory, the gang wants to get their money back. The leader of the gang is ruthless and deadly. But when the chance comes for some of the characters to get rid of the gang and keep the money, things get increasingly complex. And the complexity is mirrored in the fact that the film uses three languages (Romanian, Spanish, and English) intermittently. (Four languages if you include the whistling.)
This is not a film with good guys and bad guys. There are some people we are rooting for (especially Cristi and Gilda), but everyone is corrupted or corrupting. There are now Robin Hood type of motives involved here. The money isn’t going to be put to some noble use. The immorality of this group would lend support to the Calvinist belief in the total depravity of humanity.
We are, though, drawn to Cristi. Maybe because he doesn’t have a strong personality or will. He is seemingly carried along by the plot, rather that the mastermind. He takes advantages of situations, but isn’t really the instigator. The only thing he really has going for him is his love for Gilda. But is she really worth his devotion? Would she reciprocate? Or is it enough that Cristi acts to win her?
The film can be a bit hard to follow at the start. It helps to have brief overview while you get your bearings in the film that goes back and forth in time. But it is an enjoyable ride that ends up with a scene of great beauty.
The Whistlers is available for rent via Virtual Cinema. Check your local art house website or https://www.magnoliapictures.com/virtualcinema.