Saturday, January 31, 2015

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle

3/4

Starring: George Pistereanu, Ana Condeescu, Clara Voda, Mihai Constantin

Not Rated (Probable R for A Violent Situation, an Implied Sexual Assault and Some Language)

"If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle" is the kind of movie that people think of when they hear the term "art house" movie: low-key performances, lots of dramatic pauses, no soundtrack, no artificial lighting, etc.  It's very Dogma 95.  I've been known to criticize some of these movies as pretentious ("The Snowtown Murders" comes to mind...much as I would like to forget it), but this Romanian film is actually very good.  It does not have mainstream appeal, but I was engaged by it.

Silviu (Pistereanu) is slightly more than two weeks from being released from a youth penitentiary.  His younger brother comes to visit him and tells him that his mother wants to take him to Italy with her, and when he gets out, Silviu can join them.  For reasons as yet unknown, Silviu doesn't like this idea.  Also involved is Ana (Condeescu), a young woman who is interviewing Silviu prior to his release.  These two plotlines collide in the film's final act.

I didn't know that this Romanian film was based on a play until after I watched it, but it doesn't surprise me.  This is not a plot-heavy film.  Unfortunately, it's not very talky either, with co-writer/director Florin Serban filling up time with dramatic pauses and the like.

What saves the film is the debut performance of George Pistereanu, who had no previous acting experience.  It's a very effective performance, and Pistereanu is good at using his body, particularly his eyes, to speak volumes.  He's a natural performer (there's no lack of polish that sometimes afflicts even the best acting debuts) and the camera loves him.  He's supported as well as the script allows by his supporting cast, but he is more than capable of carrying the film on his shoulders.

The problem with the film is its presentation.  By so resolutely rejecting any form of manipulation (there isn't even a soundtrack), Serban renders his film next to inert.  There's something to be said for not going over-the-top, but in many ways a flat approach like this is just as bad, if not worse.  There is definitely some of the pretension that afflicts movies that are desperate to be "cinema verite."  Side question: does anyone find this sort of thing appealing?  I guess so, since there are plenty of them released every year.  But the difference here as opposed to dreck like "The Snowtown Murders" is that it allows the actors to perform rather than intentionally robbing them of their charisma, and tells a story.

Like I said.  This isn't going to be a movie that many people will get.  But there is good stuff here, particularly the debut of Pistereanu, who may have a solid career if he wants it.

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