Romanian filmmaking, as everybody with more than a passing interest in international cinema already knows, has blown up in the last few years, becoming the hot New Wave of the moment (and in the process, robbing the nascent Korean New Wave of oxygen; but now is not the time for that). All the best festivals simply must show a Romanian picture or two, and it's a fair certainty in Chicago at least, that those are among the first to sell out. Without even really noticing it, I even managed to set up my CIFF schedule this year so that the first two films I saw were both Romanian. One of them was extremely good.

The other one, which I admittedly watched in despite of a friendly warning from someone in a position to know, was If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle, which has the unlovely distinction of being the first Romanian movie I've ever seen that bored me to distraction. This is not, of course, a particularly kinetic national cinema; one of the hallmarks of the Romanian New Wave is the implacable long take of people in drab rooms doing not much of anything (and though I wasn't counting, it's possible that If I Want to Whistle might actually have the most cuts of any film I've seen from that country). But If I Want to Whistle, the first released feature by director Florin Şerban, takes all of the tropes of the Romanian New Wave and runs them into the ground: it is a stilted and frustrating grab-bag of stylistic and narrative clichés propping up nothing at all in particular, and for this it won the Silver Bear at Berlin, and is its country's official submission for the 2010 Academy Awards. At this point, were you and I speaking in person, I would have feebly gestured in the air with my left hand, indicating "There's no accounting for taste, what can you do?" in a resigned way, and if I could find a way to indicate that movement in text, I should be the world's happiest blogger.

If I Want Etc. centers on Silviu (George Piştereanu), a juvenile prison inmate, just a couple of weeks from his release date. When we meet him, he has just received a visit from his little brother (Marian Bratu) with a bit of hideous news: their mother (Clara Vodă) is taking the boy with her to Italy, where she has set up a new life that won't include her soon-to-be-an-ex-con elder son. Silviu is aghast, for he has long come to blame his mother's terrible parenting for setting him on the road that has led to prison and a promised lifetime of closed doors and limited potential, and it is his greatest hope that he can keep his brother from following the same path. Only problem is, they're leaving before he gets out of prison.

The only thing to do, obviously, is to take a pretty social worker (Ada Condeescu) hostage, and issuing as his one demand that his mother come to the prison, and promise that she'll leave the boy in Romania. Silviu knows that this will consign him to God knows how many years of future imprisonment; that's a price he's willing to pay.

So, here are the ingredients we have so far: the juvenile detention system in Romania, the struggles of a country the first post-Communist generation has been left profoundly ill-equipped to provide an sort of guidance to their children, a social-realist depiction of the lives of the imprisoned and how they deal with the fact that their dreams have been strangled aborning. And, how could I forget to mention the casting! It's just about the only thing that constantly comes up in reviews of If I Want to Whistle, in part because it's the only thing about the film that is interesting: Şerban decided to make that extra push for verisimilitude by casting, as the many other inmates who make up the whole of Silviu's knowledge of humanity, actual prisoners. This is the sort of fact that makes the whole thing a little bittersweet - when the characters are whooping and cheering on Silviu's little act of rebellion, those are basically the honest responses of frustrated, trapped men - but doesn't actually have a significant material affect on the movie per se.

At its heart, If I Want to Whistle is essentially a message movie, a sweeping declaration of the ills facing Romania's youth. A good and noble topic for the filmmakers to pursue, of course, though they do not serve their theme terribly well. It is, frankly, a grind and a chore to get through, devoting far too much time before Silviu snaps and takes his hostage to nothing but stating its mise en scène: not exploring it, not establishing it as a secondary character, but simply placing a real-life reform school before our eyes and then filming it in the exact same kinds of shots, over and over again. Those shots are of that carefully artless school of European "gritty realism", ugly walls and sweaty people filmed with erratic handheld cameras, an aesthetic mainstay of the Romanian New Wave that Şerban dutifully copies without apparently understanding why. And in the meantime, his characters act like they are compelled by the will of the screenwriters (Şerban and Cătălin Mitulescu), not because they have an inner life. It's not the worst of the current wave of Euro-art, not by a long shot, but it's awfully stale and static.