Skip to main content
film review

Vlad Ivanov plays a narcotics cop sent by the gangster he serves to an island in the Canaries in Corneliu Porumboiu's The Whistlers.Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

  • The Whistlers
  • Written and directed by Corneliu Porumboiu
  • Starring Vlad Ivanov, Rodica Lazar and Vatrinel Marlon
  • Classification 18A; 97 minutes

Rating:

3 out of 4 stars

Corrupt narcotics cop Cristi (Vlad Ivanov) is sent by the gangster he serves to the Canary Islands to learn Silbo Gomero, an ancient Indigenous whistling language unique to the area. Why he must avoid detection, and to what original end, remain unclear.

To the untrained, Silbo mimics birdsong and this peculiarity is as much for absurd effect than service to story. The whistling was originally developed to more conveniently communicate across great distances and that gives writer/director Corneliu Porumboiu the perfect excuse to repeatedly frame the assorted players dwarfed by vast cityscapes and spectacular nature vistas.

Read more: Corneliu Porumboiu brings drollery and a subtle visual style to his new film The Whistlers

New movies this weekend, including spare and powerful First Cow, heartbreaking Red Snow and Netflix thriller Lost Girls

Catrinel Marlon stars as vampy femme fatale Gilda.Vlad Cioplea/Courtesy of Mongrel Media

Another clever complication is that due to the vagaries of the criminals involved and their nationalities, the whistling now requires retranslation through two layers of language (Romanian, then Spanish) and that heightens tension and mistrust with more potential for broken telephone (and misdirection). All this is compounded by how impassively Ivanov plays Cristi – he’s not so much a man of ambiguous loyalties as of opaque motivation. An eventual romance with a vampy femme fatale is similarly vague.

The Whistlers opens March 13 in Toronto and Vancouver, March 20 in Montreal.

Plan your screen time with the weekly What to Watch newsletter, with film, TV and streaming reviews and more. Sign up today.