Serving a Run-On Sentence
If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (2010)
The renaissance in Romanian cinema continues with “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” a small release that kicks off the 2011 film calendar. First-time filmmaker Florin Serban’s gritty prison drama — shot on a hand-held camera largely in close-up — offers a paired-down, intense character-driven experience that propels its viewer into the suffocating world of life in juvenile detention.
Debuting actor George Pistereanu plays Silviu, an angry young man living the demoralizing lockup lifestyle, working manual labor and being treated derogatorily by big-shot guards and fellow prisoners. Visits from his little brother provide a brief, small salve. Silviu’s emasculation is compounded and his tenuous grip on his sanity threatened when he learns that their once-estranged mother plans to move her younger son to Italy.
Mr. Serban doesn’t attempt a radical reinvention of the prison-movie form. His primary interests are following Silviu through the yard and buildings, which reek of drab Communist stagnation, and using his protagonist as a conduit to explore the insidious ways the setting seeps into the souls of its inhabitants. There’s an unhurried flow to the narrative — spurred by the self-consciously rudimentary cinematography and absence of a superficially-imposed arc — that helps the picture sustain its sought-after documentary feel.
The seamlessness with which Mr. Serban chronicles the downtrodden, psychologically draining realities of such a restrictive, torturous place is greatly aided by Mr. Pistereanu’s terrific work. The first-timer simmers in fits of barely submerged rage, taking heaps of dehumanizing punishment with the glowering, eerie calm of a man itching to go off. The camera follows the actor so resolutely — with such in-depth, first person focus — that the movie fairly depends on its star’s projection of brooding, Brando-esque charisma, which Mr. Pistereanu emphatically possesses.
You never know quite what his Silviu is thinking or feeling, but you’re compelled to stick with him — and the naturalistic environment Serban creates — to find out.
IF I WANT TO WHISTLE, I WHISTLE
Opened on Jan. 5 in Manhattan.
Directed by Florin Serban; written by Catalin Mitulescu and Mr. Serban, based on the play “Eu Cand Vreau Sa Fluier, Fluier” by Andreea Valean; director of photography, Marius Panduru; edited by Catalin F. Cristutiu and Sorin Baican; production design by Ana Ioneci; costumes by Augustina Stanciu; produced by Catalin Mitulescu and Daniel Mitulescu; released by Film Movement. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 34 minutes. This film is not rated.
WITH: George Pistereanu (Silviu), Ada Condeescu (Ana), Clara Voda (Mother), Mihai Constantin (warden), Marian Bratu (the Brother) and Chilibar Papan (Ursu).