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George Pistereanu in IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE (Photo: Film Movement)

IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE
Directed by Florin Serban
Produced by
Catalin Mitulescu & Daniel Mitulescu 
Written by Catalin Mitulescu and Mr. Serban, based on the play Eu Cand Vreau Sa Fluier, Fluier by Andreea Valean
Released by Film Movement
Romanian with English subtitles
Romania/Sweden. 94 min. Not Rated
With
George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu, Clara Voda, Mihai Constantin, Marian Bratu & Chilibar Papan
 

The title phrase of If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is never said, but itís powerfully visualized.

Eighteen-year-old Silviu Chiscan (George Pistereanu) keeps his head down and his nose clean at a rugged Romanian juvenile prison/work farm. He puts up with the bullying and extortions of the more hardened, tattooed inmates, but heís mostly able to defend himself when horseplay becomes too aggressiveóhe counts down the days until his release in two weeks. (The other inmates are played by real offenders at penitentiaries for minors.) Silviu feels confident enough of his impending freedom to flirt with the pretty social worker/student (Ada Condeescu) helping him process forms for life on the outside, going so far to flirt with her.

And then Silviu receives a surprise visitor and his self-control starts to break down. He becomes much less a shorn automaton and much more a human being rebelling against institutional and social forces he can only quixotically try to control. The visitor, his beloved, much younger brother (Marian Bratu), has disturbing news about their mother (Clara Voda), long absent abroad. Much agitated, Silviu begins breaking the rules and becoming over-indebted to the prisonís tough guys, risks that will endanger his release. And when he sees his mother on visiting day, their confrontation is as unexpected and revealing as it is explosive.

As if a pin has been taken out of a grenade, Silviu will now do anything within his means, using anything and anyone in his circumscribed environment to accomplish what he feels he has to do to protect his brother from their motherís plans. Though there are a couple of plot holes in adapting the play by Andreea Valean (who has been taking care of Silviuís brother since his incarceration?), his eruption builds up more believably than in another upcoming Romanian film thatís been hailed at international festivals, Cristi Puiuís AuroraWhistle is Romaniaís submission for the best Foreign-Language Academy Award.

Itís usual to read into Romanian New Wave films an allegory of life during a totalitarian regime or the abrupt shift to capitalism. Script co-writer Catalin Mitulescu wrote and directed The Way I Spent the End of the World (2006) that featured a protective teen specifically dealing with the end of Nicolae Ceausescuís reignBut there are more universal themes of family and freedom here. As much as Serban reveals his influences (including Bruno Dumont and Ken Loach) through a hand-held style that lets actions unfold (besides his use of first-time actors), thereís also a lot here that feels like Stuart Rosenbergís Cool Hand Luke (1967), especially handsome Pistereanuís blisteringly charismatic performance as he shifts from menacing violence to solicitous and caring. This filming experience convinced Pistereanu to enter acting school after high school, and we should look forward to his and Serbanís future work. Nora Lee Mandel
January 5, 2011

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