A 'Whistle' In A Dark Place, But Its Pitch Is True

The sins of the brother: An incarcerated teenager (George Pistereanu) scrambles to keep his little brother (Marian Bratu) from being taken away to Italy -- by their mom. i i

Sins Of The Brother: An incarcerated teenager (George Pistereanu) discovers that the little brother (Marian Bratu) whom he's raised like a son is about to be hauled off to Italy -- by the mom who abandoned them years earlier -- in Romania's entry in the 2011 foreign-film Oscar derby. Film Movement hide caption

itoggle caption Film Movement
The sins of the brother: An incarcerated teenager (George Pistereanu) scrambles to keep his little brother (Marian Bratu) from being taken away to Italy -- by their mom.

Sins Of The Brother: An incarcerated teenager (George Pistereanu) discovers that the little brother (Marian Bratu) whom he's raised like a son is about to be hauled off to Italy -- by the mom who abandoned them years earlier -- in Romania's entry in the 2011 foreign-film Oscar derby.

Film Movement

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle

  • Director: Florin Serban
  • Genre: Drama
  • Running Time: 94 minutes

Not rated: violence

With: George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu, Mihai Constantin, Clara Voda

In Romanian with English subtitles

(Recommended)

The protagonist of If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle might seem to have little understanding and less influence. He is, after all, a teenage reform-camp inmate. But 18-year-old Silviu (George Pistereanu) has strong insight into a few things — and the guts to simply seize control when he sees no other option. He's threatening but also inspiring, possibly doomed and yet frequently sympathetic.

Romania's candidate for the 2011 foreign-film Oscar, Whistle was adapted from a play, but it could hardly be less stagy. Working in the documentary-rooted style of many recent Romanian movies, first-time feature director Florin Serban uses real-life locations and nonprofessional actors; the latter include Pistereanu, a high-school student, and numerous residents of reformatories like the one where the movie was shot.

The story opens with terse scenes of everyday existence at the camp, where young men in soccer-team jackets and close-cropped haircuts stack bales of hay. The routine is interrupted by the arrival of Silviu's younger brother, Marius (Marian Bratu), who looks to be about 12. He brings unwelcome news: Mom is back in town.

The boys' mother hasn't been around much, it seems. In fact, much of the time, Silviu has raised Marius, and despite his current residency status, the teenager doesn't trust anyone else with the task. Now, Marius tells his brother, mom intends to take him back to Italy with her. They're leaving within the week, he says; Silviu is set for release in 15 days.

Extremities: Frantic to prevent his little brother from having to suffer the same traumas he faced as a child himself, Silviu seizes on a visitor (Ada Condeescu) as an escape route i i

Extremities: Frantic to prevent his little brother from having to suffer the same traumas he faced as a child himself, Silviu seizes on a visitor (Ada Condeescu) as an escape route. Film Movement hide caption

itoggle caption Film Movement
Extremities: Frantic to prevent his little brother from having to suffer the same traumas he faced as a child himself, Silviu seizes on a visitor (Ada Condeescu) as an escape route

Extremities: Frantic to prevent his little brother from having to suffer the same traumas he faced as a child himself, Silviu seizes on a visitor (Ada Condeescu) as an escape route.

Film Movement

The panicked inmate starts looking for a way out, asking for a one-day pass and — when he's refused — stalking the camp's perimeter in search of a weak link. What he finds, instead, is a guard in the mood to administer a beating. Eventually, Silviu locates his exit in a group of social-work students who have arrived with questionnaires for some of the prisoners: He grabs one of these visitors, Ana, as a bargaining chip. (There may be something other than fraternal feeling contributing to Silviu's impulsive action; Ana, played by Ada Condeescu, is by far the prettiest of the female students, and her time as Silviu's hostage plays, in part, as an awkward first date.)

The movie was shot by veteran New Romanian Cinema cinematographer Marius Panduru, whose credits include the 2009 critics' favorite Police, Adjective; he uses hand-held camerawork to create a documentary feel, and also to convey Silviu's vigor and determination. Closely tracking the teenager as he stalks the camp, the camera has plenty of time to contemplate the arc of hairless flesh on the back of his head.

Maybe Silviu just fell off a tricycle as a youngster, but the scar suggests a rougher past than that. (When the older boy finally gets to confront his mother about those plans for Italy, he expresses his fear that Marius will be forced to relive his own childhood of neglect and bewilderment in that country.) So do the teenager's fierce self-reliance and his ability to improvise in the face of adult incomprehension, both well conveyed by Pistereanu's coolly intense performance.

As is typical of recent Romanian cinema, the movie uses a compressed timeline and circumscribed territory to create powerful senses of urgency and anticipation. From its earliest moments, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is a film in which something just has to happen. That this climactic outburst will probably not be for the best makes the events all the more poignant. (Recommended)

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.