Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Florin Serban's weird WHISTLE/WHISTLE: What a guy's gotta do to get a date

Shocking as this might seem to some of us who've been praising the living daylights out of almost anything we view from a certain small, Eastern European country, we can rest easy at last: Not every new Romanian movie turns out to be a classic. Case in point: Florin Serbin's marquee-filling film, IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE (Eu cand vreau sa fluier, fluier). Here we have an interesting story, featuring an unusual central character played by a charismatic young actor, and a short running time only half the length of, say,  Aurora or The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceausescu.

The second full-length work from director/co-writer (with Catalin Mitulescu and Andreea Valean) Florin Serban (shown at right), the film takes us inside what initially looks like a relatively decent Romanian prison for young men, where we meet our lead character, Silviu, played by a newcomer with a big future -- George Pistereanu (below) -- and a few of his prison-mates.

This rangy and very keep-to-himself kid is about to be released back into society when his little brother makes a surprise visit to the prison and informs Silviu that their mom (Clara Voda, below) has returned and wants to take the younger bro with her back to Italy. This sends a jolt through out "hero" -- the reason for which we learn only haltingly -- and from this point on the young man's life begins to spin wildly out of control.

Fortunately, the movie does not, although by the finale, it has deteriorated somewhat in the believability department -- allowing all the irony, cynicism and pointlessness we now expect from many Romanian movies to come home to roost. In the better films, these seem unavoidable. Here they appear more than a bit manipulated.

As in so many of the television sit-coms we grew up with, the withholding of important information is all that allows the plot to continue. Whistle offers a hero who withholds just about everything. He won't communicate with anyone. Not the warden, who is clearly on his side (until suddenly he ain't: Whoops -- some of that manipulation is showing), nor the female prison "intern" to whom he is attracted. While we may accept this ultra-closed attitude as a kind of Romanian version of "macho" who would never be a snitch, what's harder to manage are all the events that conspire to do our boy in, starting with the sudden fixation of another of the prisoners (Papan Chillibar, above) with making our hero his bitch.

Reality soon descends into melodrama, and the finale is so drawn out and obvious (oy -- that date!) that we just kind of shrug and go along with it out of respect for the early part of the film. Serban has a flair for immediacy -- close-ups and characterization and moment-to-moment involvement. And in Pistereanu, he has a commanding presence who can carry a movie. These are reason enough to give the film a shot. Just don't expect the profundity of The Death of Mr Lazarescu or Police, Adjective.

From Film Movement, Whistle/Whistle open this Wednesday, January 5, in New YorkCity at Film Forum for a two-week run. Further playdates, with cities and theaters, one hopes,
will follow soon.

Note: Filmmaker Florin Serban will appear in person 
at Film Forum for the opening day, Jan. 5, 8pm show.

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