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Pen Pals: Florin Serban’s “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle”

Pen Pals: Florin Serban’s "If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle"

In Florin Serban’s If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, a charismatic, well-behaved teen inmate at a rural reformatory becomes a tightly wound bag of nerves when he receives troubling news from the broken-home front. Despite its carceral trappings, Serban’s film, driven by George Pistereanu’s raw, nervy lead performance, adheres to few prison house–film clichés. Winner of the Grand Prix Silver Bear and Alfred Bauer Prizes at last year’s Berlinale, Whistle is a sobering gut punch of Romanian realism, the kind of visceral, hard-knock drama that Jacques Audiard’s A Prophet aspired to be. Though the film lacks the complex, conscientious moral dimension of that French opus, and falters when its protagonist’s sudden, self-negating act of rebellion nearly sends the entire carriage off the rails, Serban’s stoic single-character focus has a riveting, almost hypnotic fascination all its own. Read Damon Smith’s review.

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