Starring Vlad Ivanov. In English, Romanian, and Spanish, with English subtitles. Rated 18A
This clever little item never meta noir it didn’t like. That is, this chilled-out thriller is so packed with homages to movie tropes, new and old, it scarcely has time for the story in the foreground. And that doesn’t matter one bit.
The Whistlers is a nifty change of pace for Romanian writer-director Corneliu Porumboiu, whose name sounds like an ancient Latin puzzle game—which is not that far off. He usually makes grittier social studies (like 12:08 East of Bucharest), not without humour, but more sober-sided than anything in this geography-hopping fun ride.
Porumboiu forges a link with earlier efforts by casting frequent collaborator Vlad Ivanov—who looks something like Michael Keaton after too many beers—as a Bucharest cop named Cristi. In Police, Adjective, the deceptively bland Ivanov played a doctrinaire detective who harried a morally ambivalent narc, also named Cristi.
This particular Mr. Cristi has few good cookies, so he’s amenable to taking side dough from a mobbed-up launderer (Ludwig II star Sabin Tambrea) who runs a mattress factory. When the abject policeman’s even more crooked boss (a sly Rodica Lazar) stings the mattress king anyway, Spanish mobsters pull Cristi into a plan to free him, knowing that he has stashed millions away. Anyone want to guess where?
Somehow, our flatfoot-in-the-middle has ended up in the Canary Islands, specifically on one (the original title is La Gomera) where locals developed a weird whistling language over centuries, to communicate across steep mountains, and undetected by, say, European colonizers and cops.
Also aboard is the mattress guy’s romantic partner, Gilda, played by former swimsuit model Catrinel Marlon, now based in Italy. She initially seems more glamorous than the story even needs, but the director clearly wants to hit all the femme fatale marks suggested by the name Gilda. (Check IMDb for relevance.) And his TCM obsession extends to including clips of John Ford’s The Searchers and other classics.
Beyond all that, the breezily paced film offers a sweet orange-tinged palette and a cool collection of found songs, ranging from Italian opera to “Mack the Knife”, making this a delightful mixtape of a movie you’ll want to whistle along with more than once.