The Whistlers (aka La Gomera) review — Romanian gangster picture in love with movies

Written and Directed by Corneliu Porumboiu | 97 min | Mubi/On Demand 

There’s a rich tradition of European filmmakers taking on Hollywood genre styles while adding a little spice to the recipe. Porumboiu, previously known for films that cleave to a certain bleak Romanian realism has tossed that. Here he delivers a dense and dryly humourous noir crime thriller. As a genre exercise it’s largely satisfying while self-consciously nodding to its forbearers. Accordingly, it might appeal more to cineastes than your average thrill seeker.

Cristi (Vlad Ivanov, an actor with a single expression but somehow still magnetic) is a cop in Bucharest who’s been sent by gangsters to the Canary Islands to learn a whistling language. The plan is it will help him aid the gangsters to break out one of their own from a Romanian prison. Through flashback segments we learn Cristi has a complicated history in deceit, though the film gives you the impression nobody in the local law enforcement is entirely clean. He’s also got a mother (Julieta Szönyi) who generates a little comic relief while getting him into trouble donating a stash of his ill-gotten cash to the local church.

There’s a lot of love here for the Coen Brothers and Steven Soderbergh, aping their more modern noir leanings, ironic chuckles, and pointedly non-linear storytelling structure, and Porumboiu has some fun with the cinematic gaze — lots of references to performing for those who surveil, scenes that take place in cinemas, and watching screens — John Ford’s The Searchers and 1970s Romanian drama A Police Superintendent Accuses both feature — and an American filmmaker shows up at an awkward moment scouting for locations. In case you weren’t sure Catrinel Marlon is the femme fatale she wears fire-engine red dresses and her character’s name is Gilda.

If you, like me, consider the case for a cop travelling across Europe to learn this whistling language low in practicality or plausibility, it makes a certain sense in a film from a nation that was once behind the Iron Curtain. The Whistlers is steeped in the fear of surveillance and heavy with the exclusive providences of closed cultures, like thieves and lawyers.

About the author


Carsten Knox is a massive, cheese-eating nerd. In the day he works as a journalist in Halifax, Nova Scotia. At night he stares out at the rain-slick streets, watches movies, and writes about what he's seeing.