Portrait does not feel burdened with historical detail or shackled to period fidelity; the film operates more like a luminous reimagining of what could have happened behind closed doors, when geographical loneliness lent the unexpected pleasure of freedom from automatic social patterning.
No heroic Siegfried figure, Humberto is a feckless opportunist. And so his voiceover, which persists throughout the runtime, inevitably recalls the mobsters of Martin Scorsese, whose The Wolf of Wall Street Veiroj has cited as a conscious model.
The haunting of Dakar in Atlantics extends beyond the film’s supernatural storyline, encompassing something more comprehensive and more unsettling in the strangeness of the 21st-century cityscape like that springing up in the suburbs, the tension between an imposed (and imposing) environment and human needs.
Throughout, in the manner of The Beaches of Agnès (2008), Varda looks back at her work, attempting to connect the dots both for herself, and for her audience. Knowing she can no longer be with us, the ever benevolent Varda has left us with the next best thing.
The basic premise trades in the kind of casual absurdism that’s by now expected of Porumboiu. More surprising is the fact that The Whistlers plays much like a standard policier—a relatively by-the-book offering from a director who has distinguished himself by a willingness to throw out the manual.
While it’s tempting to view these histrionics as dramatic fabrications, almost everything that unfolds was captured on video recordings of the actual trial, and lifted from official testimony transcripts. Nonetheless, Bellocchio doesn’t resist the opportunity to ham up the fracas an extra notch or two, to discombobulating effect.