“If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle”: Romania continues its cinematic resurgence

"If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle" is a gripping prison drama with a magnetic James Dean-esque hero

Topics: Film Salon, Our Picks, Movies,

"If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle": Romania continues its cinematic resurgenceGeorge Pistereanu in "If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle"

If you’ve been wondering what the deal is with all these Romanian movies — like, you’re curious, but apprehensive about the prospect of arduous, vitamin-enriched art — then the taut, utterly unpretentious prison yarn “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” from a young director named Florin Serban, might be a good place to start. This movie isn’t a post-Commie Romanian masterpiece along the lines of Cristian Mungiu’s terrific abortion-themed thriller “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” or Cristi Puiu’s Dante-esque dark comedy “The Death of Mr. Lazarescu.” But it also isn’t as thematically daunting or gruesome as those films, and offers an introduction to the lean-and-mean, social-realist Romanian storytelling style that’s built around a charismatic young actor and a familiar genre. (On the other hand, if you’re already a devotee, you should know that Puiu’s “Aurora” and Radu Muntean’s “Tuesday, After Christmas,” last year’s festival hits from Romania, will reach our shores soon.)

Bedroom-eyed skinhead George Pistereanu plays a teenage offender named Silviu, who’s spent the last four years in a ramshackle juvenile facility somewhere in the countryside. As is customary in Romanian films, there’s a lot of focus on the bureaucracy and ineptitude that dominate everyday life in a country that’s still trying to catch up to contemporary Europe after decades under a backward-looking, repressive dictatorship. As the title suggests, Silviu is something of an existential antihero, a young man who has forged his own ethical compass without much help from the world, and is going to follow its dictates come hell or high water.

Although he’s both an ominous and seductive-looking fellow, trudging around the decrepit grounds in an ill-fitting tracksuit, Silviu has built up a good-kid reputation in prison, and is only two weeks away from release. That’s before his little brother, who’s no more than 11 or 12, shows up to tell him that their no-account mother is back in town, and wants to spirit him away to Italy. And before a doe-eyed, luscious-lipped college student named Ana (Ada Condeescu) arrives at the prison to interview Silviu, as part of some faintly condescending sociology research project.



When Silviu’s mother (Clara Voda) turns up in person, a blond, nervous type no older than 40, we finally get a little of the family back-story, but not all that much. We never learn why she left in the first place, or exactly why Silviu is in prison. (Generic answers to both: Because bad things happened.) Serban is ruthlessly focused on the present tense, and reveals Silviu’s mounting sense of distress entirely through his actions. Silviu willfully breaks prison rules, stages a tense confrontation with the sniggering would-be crime boss who runs his dormitory, borrows a clandestine cell phone at outrageous rates. (One phone call costs seven packs of cigarettes.) The film’s power stems largely from Silviu’s James Dean-like combination of physical menace and tender-hearted naiveté. In his only confessional moment, he tells a friend that he plans to marry Ana, whom he’s met exactly once, and imagines picking her up after work (and having an extended sexual workout in the car on the way home).

We can see Silviu’s violent explosion coming well before it arrives, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic or effective. Let’s just say that he, his mother and Ana all wind up in the same room, along with a critically injured guard, and that his mother has to face the fact that her oldest son is willing to throw his life away in an effort to keep her youngest son from her. And you needn’t worry that “When I Want to Whistle” ends in apocalyptic bloodshed or anything — Silviu may do bad and stupid things, but he isn’t a monster, and Serban closes the film on a note of haunting, ambiguous sadness. We’re never going to know whether Silviu is right about his mother; we only know she is forced to consider that he might be.

“If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle” is now playing at Film Forum in New York, with more cities and DVD release to follow.

 

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>