Capsule reviews of “Dog Pound” and “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle” at Philadelphia Film Festival The 2010 Philadelphia Film Festival hosted a screening of Dog Pound on Sunday, October 17, 2010. If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle had its East Coast Premiere there on Sunday, October 24. Following are are non-spoiler reviews.

Dog Pound

Prison dramas typically focus on the hopelessness and brutality of life behind bars for men (or women) who may be beyond redemption. But the subject takes on special significance when the inmates are juveniles. This youthful variation on the theme is often just as harsh and hard to watch but ultimately the result can be a heartwarming coming-of-age story that rewards the viewer with its poignancy. There were two such films at the 2010 Philadelphia Film Festival and both have made my Top 10 list.
Kim Chapiron's Dog Pound, a co-production of France, Canada, and the UK, is set in Montana's Enola Vale Youth Correctional Center -- the facility which takes in some of America's toughest adolescents. The screenplay was co-written with Jeremie Delon and based on Scum, Alan Clarke's 1979 work made for British television.

Dog Pound revolves around three boys -- Shane Kippel (Spinner of TV's Degrassi), Adam Butcher, and Mateo Morales. Angel (Morales) is 15 and the most innocent of the trio, clearly out of place and in need of protection. Davis (Kippel), 16 years old, appears wise and hardened but with a carefree attitude and schoolboy demeanor that leaves him easily victimized. The enigmatic Butch (Butcher) is 17 and the most charismatic of the bunch. His deep vulnerability is masked by a cold veneer and stubborn petulance that keeps both friends and enemies on their toes.

When a young man's life is reduced to being a moving target, the key to survival is the bond with others. The stronger that connection the more likely they'll see the light of day. Brotherhood leads to freedom, provided one can stay alive long enough to develop the relationships that the environment demands. Within Angel, Davis, and Butch are the qualities we all possess, allowing us to empathize, while forcing us to suffer through their ordeal. Dog Pound is one of the most chilling and powerful movies I've seen at recent festivals.

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle

If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is the second of the two juvenile prison dramas among my Top 10 Picks. Unlike Dog Pound, this film is all about one young man -- 18-year-old Silviu (Pistireanu George), who's been incarcerated since age 14 and is two weeks from release. Based on the novel by Andreea Valean, If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle was co-written by director Florin Serban and Catalin Mitulescu.

Despite the fact that he'll be home in just a few days, Silviu is willing to risk his impending freedom by wearing his heart on his sleeve and expressing his love for others. He's more obsessed with protecting his little brother from their mother's shady life than building up points for good behavior. This Romania/Sweden co-production is about as gritty as they come, with cinematographer Marius Panduru's handheld camerawork placing the viewer perilously close to the often horrific action. Like many Eastern European films, a cool color palette of faded blue to gray forces attention on the characters.

Ada Condeescu turns in a powerfully heartbreaking performance as a coy researcher who distracts Silviu from his ultimate mission. He gets caught up in a love triangle which couldn't possibly have a happy outcome. The narrative becomes a roller coaster ride of conflicting emotions which surprises at every turn. Most of all, this is Pistireanu George's film. He is simply brilliant in a role that demands steely mystery, flipping from affection to violence on a moment's notice. If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle is frighteningly unpredictable, occasionally confounding the viewer with seemingly improbable scenarios that only Silviu understands. It makes this an edge-of-your-seat real-life horror story that leaves us with more questions than answers.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at

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  • Author: Larry Richman
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