In an art house noir, one worry is that the contrasting sensibilities of urgency and detachment will rub each other the wrong way and produce bitterness and sarcasm, like a blind date between Isabelle Huppert and Humphrey Bogart. Fortunately, the intentional awkwardness of Porumbuioi's rhythm in The Whistlers lends itself to the psychological fragmentation of noir, whilst the distancing flashback structure also services the genre. There are some long take flourishes including a car going through a tunnel in real time, but also classical low angle close-ups, tortured compositions through bars, and shadows used like veils. Vlad Ivanov, best known as the menacing abortionist in Romanian New Wave flagship film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, here plays the archetypal down-on-his-luck, in-over-his-head, getting-it-from-all-angles noir protagonist, much less skilled in manipulation than his other character and constantly manipulated.
He is Cristi, a corrupt policeman who knows his time is up, his Bucharest apartment tapped by his colleagues and nothing he can do about it. A brilliant early scene introduces the femme fatale, Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), who comes to Cristi's apartment with a proposition. She uses the situation to her advantage by playing up to the cameras and making it seem like he is procuring her services for sex: although ironically he is the one getting fucked.
Cristi accompanies Gilda to the Canary Islands, accepting a big reward to help break her Romanian gangster boyfriend out of jail. The titular whistling is an indigenous means of communication that resembles birdsong and the gangster associates believe will fly under the radar of modern surveillance technology. But of course it isn't simple as that. And like the protagonist finding himself in a tight spot, plot contrivances weigh down the middle of The Whistlers and clash with its light and clean filmmaking style. Although authors who tower over the genre like Raymond Chandler are notorious for their convoluted, occasionally nonsensical plots, not all noir has these pitfalls and it feels unfortunate that this is a trope Porumbuioi felt inclined towards. He lays it on thick; along with many winking film-within-film references ('Gilda', films mirroring the action, a Brechtian use of an abandoned film set) that threaten to reach the number forty.
Along with wisecracking, another feature of noir is rain, and like its characters looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, The Whistlers goes through a small storm of shit for a big pay-off. A series of thrilling set pieces in the end justify the heavy plot mechanics, awkward choppy scenes and meta indulgence. The film becomes unexpectedly emotional and tense and the fact that this is unexpected is not just the result of previous flaws but also a director who takes risks and doesn't compromise. 5 years ago, Porumbuiou made The Second Game, a documentary about a football match in 1988 that was a nil nil draw. It is the first great football film. Now he has made the best art house noir film of the year although that is slightly less of an achievement.
— Theo Macdonald