If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle
Directed by Florin Serban
Romanian New Wave house realism meets Dardenne Bros. pressure cooker in If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, the noteworthy debut from co-writer/director Florin Serban. The juvie-set film, populated by non-actors (that is to say, actual troubled teens), is a stark drama preoccupied with cusp-of-eurozone determinism; the occasional follow shot underscores the suffocation of confinement both physical and metaphysical. But while If I Want to Whistle runs a pattern cribbed from someone else's playbook, it does so with such verve that it often scarcely seems to matter.
That's in no small part due to George Pistereanu, also making his debut here. As the 18-year-old Silviu, Pistereanu gradually channels pure king-of-the-hill impetuousness (interrupting a soccer game by scooping up the ball and running with it; shoving aside a fellow inmate at a bathroom sink) into a startling intensity of purpose. This is a shift the actor can also pull off in the space of a single scene, as during a compulsory social-worker interview, when Silviu suddenly drops his reluctance to participate, locks in his stare, and marshals the full force of his personality toward turning fieldwork into flirtation.
That's pretty much it for the Method-inflected charm, though. Silviu, browbeaten by his prisoner peers, struggles to contain a developing family crisis from behind bars. Mere days from his release, he risks his own life—as well as that of the social worker, Ana (Ada Condeescu), whom he takes hostage—to save his little brother from the fair-weather guardianship of their scraping-by-in-Italy mother. Meanwhile, the screenplay sentences supporting characters to device detail: Ana, the awkward coffee date Silviu never had, maintains sympathy for him, even after he threatens her life; the warden acquiesces to Silviu's every drama-intensifying demand. The no-way-out inevitability of the scenario is nonetheless crushingly palpable throughout. If I Want to Whistle might be one of the least singular Romanian films to reach these shores in recent years, but it's also, thanks to Pistereanu, one of the most wildly dynamic.
Opens January 5