The Whistlers (2019) Movie Ending Explained: Romanian New Wave filmmaker Corneliu Porumboiu’s deadpan, slow-burn narratives excavate thought-provoking themes and ideas that affect the country’s post-communist society. His debut feature, “12:08 East of Bucharest” (2006), is a droll historical inquiry about a small town’s alleged involvement in the 1989 Romanian Revolution. Porumboiu’s sophomore directorial, “Police, Adjective” (2009), is a wryly ironic satire on bureaucracy. “When Evening Falls on Bucharest or Metabolism” (2013) is a hilarious metafiction that’s perhaps the filmmaker’s most pedantic work to date. While Porumboiu’s first three films’ pared-down plots, fraught with ethical dilemmas and philosophical inquiries, were not easily approachable, his fourth film, “The Treasure” (2015), had a poignant father-son relationship at its center with a decent emotional payoff. 

With his fifth feature film, “The Whistlers” (2019), Porumboiu offers an eclectic mix of genre motifs. This noirish heist film is the filmmaker’s most mainstream work so far, and, naturally, the narrative complexity here doesn’t quite withhold the profundity and quirky experimentations his previous films had. Yet it’s a slick genre exercise, and there’s joy in figuring out the archetypal characters’ agenda through the intentionally jumbled narrative. Now, let’s look into the murky plot of “The Whistlers” (2019) and learn the quandaries of the various wretched individuals. Spoilers Ahead.

The Whistlers (2019) Plot Explained:  

Why does Cristi Visit the Spanish Canary Islands?

“The Whistlers” (2019) has a hyper-compartmentalized non-chronological narrative (at least for the first hour) that unfolds over eight chapters. It revolves around Cristi (Vlad Ivanov), a corrupt middle-aged Bucharest detective caught in an intricate scheme involving a Spanish gang and drug money. Like the duplicitous characters in the narrative, the “Whistlers” script, too, gradually reveals the information to form the whole picture – to comprehend who is double-crossing who. “The Whistlers” opens with Cristi arriving at La Gomera, one of Spain’s picturesque Canary Island chains. He is welcomed by Kiko (Antonio Buil), who asks Cristi to turn off his phone since the police are listening. Cristi is taken to Gilda (Catrinel Marlon), a femme fatale, who is the detective’s primary contact in this covert mission. 

The narrative then jumps back in time to Bucharest. Cristi meets Gilda for the first time outside his apartment. She introduces herself as Zsolt’s partner. Cristi warns her not to talk here since he is being followed. Gilda kisses Cristi, feigns intimacy, and asks for his help to get Zsolt out of prison. She invites him to an island in the canaries to learn the whistling language that will be crucial in their mission. 

What’s the Purpose of Using the Whistling Language?

Cristi takes her to the elevator to free themselves from the prying eyes of the surveilling cops. In the elevator, Cristi resoundingly rejects her offer and doesn’t take the ferry ticket to the island. Nevertheless, she asks him to invite her into his flat since if she leaves immediately, the cops will be suspicious. Cristi’s home is also full of hidden surveillance cameras, though the detective knows where it is precisely positioned. Gilda says she will pretend to be a high-class hooker.

She even gives cash from her purse to give it to her in the flat in front of the cameras. Though this is Gilda’s first meeting with Cristi, she talks about Cristi’s mother and her obsession with gardening. Cristi hands over the cash to Gilda, and they proceed to have sex in the bedroom. A camera is positioned behind the mirror in his bedroom. After sex, Gilda surreptitiously takes the ferry ticket from her bag and stashes it below the pillows. 

In the next chapter, titled ‘The Whistling Language,’ Kiko talks about the basics of El Silbo, a native whistled version of Spanish that allows shepherds to communicate across long distances. Since there are wiretaps and surveillance involved, the idea is to use whistling language to communicate simple messages that can help free Zsolt from police custody. As Kiko says, if the police hear the whistling, they will think the birds are singing. Kiko asks Cristi to swim in the ocean to enhance his whistling skills. Later, during the whistling lesson, Kiko questions Cristi about how the police found out about them. He says it was due to an anonymous phone call made by a woman. 

Who is Zsolt?

The next chapter, ‘Zsolt,’ goes back in time; chronologically, this is the narrative’s beginning. An anonymous tip has accused a mattress export factory of laundering drug money. The tip says there are 30 million euros in the factory. The police have already set up surveillance cameras in the front and back entrances of the factory. The narcotics police chief, Magda (Rodica Lazar), briefs Cristi and his partner, Alin, about the surveillance activities. Magda asks her detectives to gather information about the factory owner, Zsolt (Sabin Tambrea), and to send a female informant into the factory since the anonymous tip was from a woman caller. 

Later at night, Cristi visits Opera Motel. He gets a room and is soon visited by a man who looks like a Rabbi. The man wearing the Rabbi disguise is Zsolt. He inquires Cristi about the surveillance cameras. After getting the necessary information, Zsolt hands over a bundle of cash. Then, Cristi drives to his mother’s home. He hides the money in the cellar and leaves the place. The following day, Cristi briefs Magda about Zsolt, who had a criminal record as a teenager. Zsolt bought weed for his brother, who was studying medicine. One day, he was caught in a sting smoking weed, and to avoid punishment, he cut a deal by informing his brother. As a result, Zsolt’s brother went to the prison and killed himself inside. 

Magda’s Plan to Trap Zsolt

Magda shows a message transcript received by Zsolt from an unknown sender. She asks Alin to check the phone number and determine the coded message. Then, pretending to buy cigarettes, Magda leaves the office with Cristi and Alin. In the corridor, Magda asks Alin to plant a small amount of cocaine in Zsolt’s hotel room. She asks Cristi to find a drug dealer who will testify against Zsolt. By doing this, Magda will get a search warrant for the factory and arrest Zsolt. Cristi says he won’t do it since it’s illegal. When Magda leaves, Cristi asks Alin not to do it. He says Magda’s office is wiretapped, and if this plan to trap Zsolt doesn’t work out, Alin will be the sacrificial lamb. 

Later, Cristi buys a burner phone and texts Zsolt to ‘Run.’ At night, Cristi receives a phone call from Alin, asking him to immediately come to the mattress factory. A guy was found on the factory floors with his throat cut, his identity unknown. The money is nowhere to be found in the factory. Alin has planted cocaine as intended, and Magda is interrogating Zsolt. The police chief questions Zsolt about the 30 million he has hidden. 

Why Gilda Left an Anonymous Tip for the Police?

In the next chapter, ‘Kiko,’ Cristi makes slow progress with the whistling language at La Gomera. Kiko threatens Gilda at gunpoint to answer if she informed the police about the money. Gilda confirms Kiko’s doubt. She and Zsolt had intended to run off with the money. The money belongs to the Spanish mafioso, and Zsolt might have wantonly brought police attention to elude the gang members. At the same time, Zsolt didn’t intend to run off with Gilda. There was another unknown partner to Zsolt, who killed Ortiz (the gang member whose throat was slashed on the factory floor), and they took the money out of the factory. Gilda says if she had known where the money was, she wouldn’t have had to join them on the island. 

Cristi meets with Paco (Agusti Villaronga), the man in charge of the gang. Paco implores Cristi to free Zsolt because he desperately needs the stashed money. When Paco leaves, Gilda thanks Kiko for not telling him about her and Zsolt’s plan to run with the money. Kiko says Paco would have killed her on the spot if that information was relayed to him. Later, in the pool, Kiko tries to sexually assault Gilda as if expecting a reward for the alleged favor he has done. She shoves him off and gets out of the pool. Gilda trains Cristi about whistling in the Romanian language. 

How did Cristi Get Himself into this Disastrous Situation?

The following day, Kiko leaves the island to meet Paco and says he will tell Paco about Zsolt. While driving across the island, Cristi questions how Gilda knew about his mother’s gardening obsession. She says before approaching him, she went with Paco to visit Cristi’s mother’s home. They pretended to be a couple trying to buy a house in the area. It’s not clear whether it was to intimidate Cristi at a later point or to simply learn more about Cristi. Cristi takes the car at night and tries to run away from the island. But he is caught by Paco’s men. After a torture session, Cristi is locked in an abandoned factory. He also gets a new whistling teacher, who trains him how to whistle ‘Mama.’ 

The next chapter, ‘Mama,’ chronologically unfolds after the ‘Zsolt’ chapter. Cristi goes back to his mother’s home to retrieve the money. But he finds that a large chunk of the cash is missing. The mother (Julieta Szonyi) says she found the money in the cellar. Thinking it’s dirty money, she has donated it to the Church. She also asks her son to go to Father Daniel for confession. Cristi visits the Church that’s under renovation. 

When Cristi asks the Father to withdraw the money from the bank, he says men from the fraud squad have already inquired him about the money. Since it was over 10,000 euros, the men wanted to know who donated the money. The Father had answered the men’s questions truthfully. He also says Cristi’s mother worries about him. Since Cristi isn’t married, she believes him to be a homosexual. The donation is for the Father to pray for his soul and cleanse his sins. 

The Whistlers (2019) Movie Ending Explained
A still from Corneliu Porumboiu’s “The Whistlers” (2019)

How Magda Discovers Cristi’s Secret?

Later, Cristi asks his mother to tell the authorities the money was from her husband’s savings. Cristi’s father was a Communist dignitary. He says it was typical for high-ranking communists (before 1989) to receive bribes. When the authorities question Cristi’s mother, she says what her son asked her to. But Cristi perceives that he is under surveillance. The cameras are all in place in Cristi’s apartment. Magda shows the surveillance footage of the factory: a car leaving the factory with mattresses, and the driver’s face is unclear. Magda believes they can’t make out the driver’s face because he knows there is a camera. 

While interrogating Zsolt, Cristi pretends to get angry at Zsolt and slaps him. Alin takes him out. Outside, Magda says she has figured out that Cristi is acting and is working for Zsolt. Cristi was the police chief at the place (Deva) where Zsolt was caught as a teenager. Magda connects the 50,000 euro in Cristi’s mother’s home to Zsolt. She asks him to cooperate in the investigation to find the people behind Zsolt, or else his mother would have to face some severe interrogation. 

What is Paco’s Plan of Action to Kidnap Zsolt

In the next chapter ‘Paco,’ the gang leader, tells Cristi that he will offer Zsolt’s share (1 million euros). All he needs to do is help them kidnap Zsolt. After Zsolt reveals where the money is hidden, he will be killed. Later, at the abandoned factory, Paco explains their plan. Cristi has to dissolve a substance from a vial – without color or smell – in the water and give it to Zsolt. He will feel sick, and the police will call an ambulance. If Zsolt is given a cortisone injection within an hour of drinking the substance, he will be saved. At the hospital, Paco’s men will kidnap Zsolt. 

Later, Paco drives Cristi to the top of the cliff. He asks Cristi to whistle in Romanian to Gilda, who is on another cliff. She will whistle the message in Spanish to Kiko, who is also at a distant cliff. Cristi perfectly passes the test. He is then dropped at the harbor and takes the ferry back to Bucharest. In the next chapter, ‘Magda,’ Cristi visits the police chief with a bouquet. He has hidden a message for Magda in the bouquet – an address to a theater. Subsequently, they meet at a theater where John Ford’s “The Searchers” is playing. 

Magda’s Plan to Ambush Paco’s Men

At the theatre, Cristi negotiates with Magda to get him out of this and save Gilda and Zsolt. In exchange, Cristi promises to give her 10 million euros. The wiretap in her office has already hinted that Magda isn’t exactly an honest police officer. The following day, Magda asks Cristi to make Zsolt sign a statement that he will become an informer and turn against his gang. Zsolt signs the statement, and later, Magda and Cristi take him to an abandoned movie set in a remote location. Magda asks Zsolt to guide the gang members to a specific area where the police force will be all set to take the men down. 

From his apartment, Cristi whistles to Gilda about when he will give the substance to Zsolt. Gilda passes the information to Paco’s gang. As per the plan, Zsolt drinks the substance, gets sick, and an ambulance takes him to a hospital. From the terrace of the police headquarters, Cristi whistles the hospital’s name. He also whistles Paco’s men to release Gilda. Magda and Cristi watch the hospital security cam as Paco’s men kidnap Zsolt. While Magda and Cristi leave the hospital to follow Zsolt, Alin, unbeknownst to Crsiti, follows Gilda to the Opera Motel. Naturally, Magda doesn’t fully trust Cristi, so she wants Alin to keep Gilda under surveillance. 

The Whistlers (2019) Movie Ending Explained: 

Who is Zsolt’s Unidentified Partner in Crime?

At the motel, Alin inquires the receptionist about Gilda’s room. He updates Magda and waits in the lobby for the police chief’s order. Zsolt takes Paco’s men to the abandoned set. He guides them to a place where he has supposedly hidden the money. When the men reach the place, the police warn them to drop the weapon and surrender. But Kiko, understanding that Zsolt has betrayed them, takes a shot at him and kills Zsolt. The snipers shoot Kiko, and a gunfight ensues. All of Paco’s men get killed. 

In the Opera Motel, the receptionist invites Alin to his office to check the security cameras positioned in corridors and outside. Alin goes inside the office and sits in front of the system as the receptionist slashes Alin’s throat. It seems the receptionist is Zsolt’s unknown partner (who also killed Ortiz at the factory). Amidst the chaos of the shootout, Cristi has escaped from the set. Magda asks her men to check on Cristi. Meanwhile, at the motel, the receptionist proceeds to kill Gilda. But she outmaneuvers him. At gunpoint, Gilda asks the receptionist to attend to Alin’s phone and put it on speaker. On the other end, Magda says a team is being sent over to the motel. 

What Happened to Cristi?

After cutting the call, the receptionist says the two mattresses containing the money are at the motel. He makes a deal with her to take one for herself and Cristi and leave the other for himself and Zsolt. Gilda agrees, and they quickly put the mattresses in the car and drive away from the motel. While running away from the remote area, Cristi is hit by a car and falls unconscious. The man behind the wheels is the one surveilling Cristi’s apartment. The final chapter of “The Whistlers” is ‘Cristi,’ which happens weeks after Gilda’s escape. 

Gilda visits Cristi’s mother’s home. The mother is selling her house since the costs of caring for her son are mounting. Cristi has lost his speech after the accident and only whistles. Gilda says she visited last year with her Spanish husband, with whom she has broken up. Now, Cristi’s mother remembers Gilda and shares more details about Cristi. Police are guarding him since the gangsters pose a threat to his life. Soon, Cristi will be taken abroad for his treatment. 

Cristi’s mother whispers all this information to Gilda. Gilda wonders why she is whispering. To which the mother says her friend asked her not to reveal these details to anyone. The friend is Magda, Cristi’s boss. The mother invites Gilda inside to have a coffee with her friend. But Gilda immediately leaves the place, pretending to have left something in the car. Inside, the mother talks about the Romanian woman and her Spanish husband. Driven by instinct, Magda walks to the entrance and sees Gilda leaving in her car. 

What is Gilda’s Message to Cristi?

Gilda stands outside the place where Cristi is guarded and whistles his name. He whistles back her name. Through whistling, Gilda says she will meet him in Singapore in Gardens by the Bay in a month. Cristi acknowledges the message and also whistles that someone is behind her. The man attending to Cristi takes him back inside. Gilda turns quickly, facing Magda – their guns pointing at each other. A Mexican standoff scenario ensues like in the Western film. In Cristi’s room, we hear distant gunshots. A month later, Cristi walks through Singapore’s vast natural park, searching for Gilda. He enjoys the magnificent sight of the light show, and soon, the sultry Gilda emerges from the dark. Johann Strauss’ The Blue Danube Waltz blasts in the background as the two finally come together amidst the sea of colors and lights. 

“The Whistlers” is Porumboiu’s most laid-back and playful feature, finely fitting his wry humor and unstylized shots into the film noir territory. It is also deliberately ludicrous. Vlad Ivanov playing the hapless, dead-eyed Cristi, the sight of well-built gangsters whistling to each other, the miserable cop surveilling Cristi’s apartment, and the strangely funny shower scene – Porumboiu despite the fatalistic tone, doesn’t turn “The Whistlers” (2019) into a somber drama. Some might find the disarranged narrative setup too glib. Yet the extraordinary absurd humor and the clever use of genre conventions offer a deliciously twisted ride. 

Read More: 10 Essential Romanian Movies of the Decade (2010s)

The Whistlers (2019) Trailer

The Whistlers (2019) Movie External Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Letterboxd
Cast of The Whistlers (2019) Movie: Vlad Ivanov, Catrinel Marlon, Sabin Tambrea, Rodica Lazar, Agusti Villaronga, and Antonio Buil
The Whistlers (2019) Runtime: 1h 37m

Similar Posts