Lee has never been any more obsessed with race than the country he has vigorously documented over the course of his multi-decade career. The ideas he explores and the stories he tells about the myriad of black experiences seem excessive only in a canon that all but ignores them.
His movies are about fraught relationships and breakdowns in communication, but without any histrionics; they often fracture time and chronology, but not in a cloying or self-consciously experimental way. They are so emotionally transparent that they run the risk of being mistaken for simple-minded.
Lest his film be charged with trafficking in the same philistine stuff as pornography, Serra rarely, if ever, allows his erotica to be, well, erotic. Not as well versed in the art of the exaggerated orgasm as adult-film actors, his nonprofessionals are awkward and imprecise.
Reichardt’s hushed visual approach animates the movie into something more contemplative than its sweet, humorous screenplay might indicate. In her films, characters tend to look at things and think. A diegetic bird squaw might fill the silence, or a plucky banjo. In those moments, the object gazed upon becomes imbued with meaning.
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.