Silviu (George Pistereanu) has only five days left before his release from the juvenile detention centre. But five days becomes an eternity when his mother (Clara Voda) returns from a long absence to take his younger brother (Marian Bratu) away. A brother whom he raised like a son. Moreover, he has fallen in love with a beautiful social worker (Ada Condeescu). With time running out and his emotions boiling over, Silviu closes his eyes... Freedom, the wind, the road, his first kiss. Anything can happen to him now.

Romanian prison drama is cold porridge.

SYDNEY FILM FESTIVAL: Romanian director Florin Serban’s debut film is a bold gamble employing a mostly non-professional cast to enact a highly original story set in a juvenile detention centre.

It’s only partly successful as If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle suffers from a tediously slow build-up, a couple of glaring plot holes and numerous unanswered questions.

There are two superb scenes involving confrontations between 18-year-old Silviu (newcomer George Pistereanu) and his mother (veteran actress Clara Voda), but nowhere near enough to sustain a slender and at times implausible narrative.

The drama won the Jury Grand Prix and the Alfred Bauer Prize awarded to a movie which opens new perspectives in film art at the 2010 Berlin International Film Festival, so others may find it more engaging and compelling than I did.

Loosely based on a stage play, the film follows Silviu as he nears the end of a four year sentence: puzzlingly, we’re never told what crime he committed although it’s obvious the kid has anger management issues which haven’t been resolved in the minimum-security institution.

Silviu learns from his kid brother Marius (Marian Bratu) that their long-absent mother has returned from Italy, where she works as a hotel receptionist, and she plans to take Marius back with her.

Full of resentment for the woman who abandoned them eight years earlier and with their father in hospital for undisclosed reasons, Silviu resolves to protect Marius from falling into her clutches. There’s a blazing row which turns physical when his mother comes to visit as he accuses her of being a 'fucking whore" and she labels him as a 'stupid jailbird."

In desperation, Silviu attacks a guard and takes as a hostage pretty trainee social worker Ana (debutant Ada Condeescu), with whom he’s infatuated although they’d only just met. He threatens to kill Ana unless the warden (Mihai Constantin, one of the other few pro actors) fetches his mother. Silviu then makes one further demand which no responsible warden would agree to, which thus renders the film’s conclusion highly improbable.

The director/co-writer spent two months in a juvenile detention centre while he finished the script, and his cast includes four inmates. The authenticity is laudable but Serban devotes too much time to showing the offenders eating, playing soccer, working in the fields and scuffling over a pack of cigarettes.

Considering Pistereanu was at high school when he was given the lead role, he has an impressive screen presence and deftly articulates the character’s pent-up rage and frustration which boil over. However, annoyingly, we see the back of his head nearly as often as his good looking face. Serban explained the decision to often place the camera behind the characters because "in prison I realised I couldn’t reach the souls of the kids, there was too much behind their words." Condeescu isn’t asked to do more than look sweet, then scared stiff, and there’s a hint that she may have been affected, if slightly, by the Stockholm Syndrome.

Among the other nagging questions which are left dangling: As Silviu has been in stir for four years, why does he now feel so protective and responsible for his kid brother? And who looked after Marius for all that time?