If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle -- Film Review

'If I Want To Whistle, I Whistle' - Film Still
Strada Film

George Pistereanu and Ada Condeescu

A minor, dramatically unrealized film from Romania, a country otherwise experiencing a film renaissance.

BERLIN -- Romania has been enjoying its own new wave in cinema in the last few years.

An explosion of filmmaking talent has caught the attention of festival directors and juries, won clutches of prizes and secured, in some instances, wide distribution overseas. But none of that Romanian magic has rubbed off on newcomer Florin Serban's competition entry "If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle," a mostly failed exercise in hand-wringing over misguided youth and juvenile delinquency. This Romanian film won't go beyond the festival circuit.

Serban wrote his script with producer Catalin Mitulescu from a play, which undoubtedly meant many changes in the transition from stage to screen. What no doubt remains is an examination of young males in a juvenile detention center and the influences of family and environment that landed them in such a facility.

The focus is only on one inmate, however, a youth named Silviu (George Pistereanu), who at first seems like a fairly normal lad in a boarding school if it were not for the barbed wire and guards. You don't know what his crime was but he is only days away from release after a four-year stint.

Then his young brother (Marian Bratu) comes to see him. His mother has returned home briefly from her job in Italy and wants to take the youngster back with her. Silviu goes quietly nuts. He believes his mother is responsible for every bad thing he has ever done and now, in his eyes, she is out to wreck son No. 2.

The timing is such that the mother can whisk away the child before Silviu gets released. So suddenly, his remaining five days feels like a life sentence. He manages to get his mother (Clara Voda) to come in for a family conference. But this winds up with angry accusations and many slaps delivered by her to her eldest son.

Meanwhile, Ana (Ada Condeescu), a pretty social worker hoping to facilitate prisoners' entry back into society, has caught Silviu's eye. He has no idea how to behave around her though.

These two slim plots escalate into Silviu's eruption, culminating in two assaults and taking Ana as his hostage. Clearly, he means to sacrifice his freedom to deliver his brother from the clutches of his mother.

The problem here is a simplistic view the film takes of the situation. No doubt bad parenting leads to bad children but what happens to individual responsibility? In the few days Silviu is before a viewer's eyes, he behaves in an immature, impulsive and needlessly self-destructive way. But his mom hasn't been around in years supposedly.

And can you trust everything he says? He claims to have raised his brother, not his mother. How did he do that while locked up for four years? What about the father? He's in a hospital but the film never tips you off about either his ailment or his own responsibility in his sons' welfare.

There are minor confrontations between Silviu and other inmates but these remain largely unexplored. All of which leads you to suspect there is more to this story than meets the eye.

Ultimately, the drama is too thin, characters too vague and the actors, many non-professional, tend to posture and pose rather than reveal themselves.

Pistereanu, a newcomer to film, has enough presence to hold the screen for the entire running time but not enough skills yet to provide the kind of insights to make you empathize with his character's volatile nature.

Condeescu may be the film's true discovery. She's a natural on screen and does have the skills to let you see all shades of contradictory emotions raging inside her as a hostage, from controlled fear to keen interest in her captor.

The production is bare bones, with no score, naturally scruffy sets and cinematography alternating between hand-held close shots to static long shots.

The title, by the way, is never explained.

Company: Strada Films
Cast: George Pistereanu, Ada Condeescu, Clara Voda, Mihai Constantin, Marian Bratu, Chilibar Papan
Director: Florin Serban
Screenwriters: Catalin Mitulescu, Florin Serban
Based on a play by: Andreea Valean
Producers: Catalin Mitulescu, Daniel Mitulescu
Executive producer: Florentina Onea
Director of photography: Marius Panduru
Production designer: Ana Ioneci
Costume designer: Augustina Stancui
Editors: Catalin F. Cristutiu, Sorin Baican
Sales: Celluloid Dreams
No rating, 94 minutes