The Whistlers (2019) Review – Distinctive Implementation of El Silbo

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Thrillers often employ non-linear narrative to create a sense of curiosity in the minds of viewers, who are constantly trying to connect dots. This keeps them thoroughly invested in the story and by the end, if all their queries are satisfactory answered, the film ought to be called a good picture. Romanian spy thriller, The Whistlers is yet another successful hit in the genre that stays true to it’s genre and perfectly implements a distinctive whistling language – El Silbo.

Corneliu Porumboiu, the writer/ director of The Whistlers, films a cop-gangster story that seems like Godard’s Breathless in it’s treatment but peculiarly narrates an interesting plot.  The concept grounds a double- and triple-crossing antihero and his pursuit to learn El Silbo, a whistled language that natives of La Gomera in the Canary Islands use to communicate.

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The Whistlers is narrated from the point of view of a corrupt Romanian cop, Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), who is caught in the middle of an intricate plot involving drug money, and local gangsters.


The Story

The film begins with Cristi who arrives at Canary Islands, in order to learn the whistling language for his gangster boss Paco (Agusti Villaronga). He is received by his trainer and a girl named Gilda (Catrinel Marlon) with Cristi shares some past. The film moves backward to define Gilda’s prominence in Cristi’s life and how she requests him to visit the island. There are flashbacks and flash-forwards, that keep viewers busy connecting the story’s dots, while Cristi pursues the drug money that Gilda and her partner Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), have hidden somewhere.

It’s usually unclear who Cristi’s really working for, since he’s often found out and forced into declaring fealty to competing interested parties, particularly Gilda; Paco, and Magda (Rodica Lazar), Cristi’s police chief.

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The Whistlers, thus, leads to money hunt which is hidden away, while all the respective characters pursue it.


El Silbo – A Whistled Language

The only distinctive element in The Whistlers is the use of the language, El Silbo. The fascinated use of it has made the film institutionalized and cultured, bringing it close to Romanian language. Until this concept is explored, the film is interesting and comfortable in it’s skin, like a very interesting scene happens when Cristi learns El Silbero, is told that the key to making the right sounds in whistling is to bend your finger like a pistol, and put it in your mouth as if you are going to shoot your right ear off. “Remember: the tongue is under the finger,” he’s told. The symbolism of the line underlines the theme of the film, as the whistling instrument is actually going to be used for mobster motives.

Minus the use of El Silbo – what is left in the The Whistlers is an old school film noir with a modern style of film making applied to the charmingly outdated Bogart kind of Protagonist, which have earlier been seen on screen. Thus, the character of Cristi is convincing but not so impactful.


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The Whistlers, being a Romanian film, might feel isolated to some of it’s viewers who aren’t habitual to the culture. But the couple of intriguing dialogue mixed with a busy plot, keeps the movie entertaining throughout. It’s quite an easy watch without worrying much about sending out a message or influencing it’s viewers. Thus don’t expect much and enjoy the fudge.


The Whistlers premiered in competition at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. It is available for Video on Demand.

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