Beyond The Hills (2012)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB

Original Title: Dupa dealuri

//, 2012. , , , , , , , , , , , . Screenplay by Cristian Mungiu, based on the non-fiction novels by . Cinematography by . Produced by Cristian Mungiu. Production Design by , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

The winter cold brings with it not only perpetually grey skies and snow on the ground, but also the visit of Alina (), who has come to a remote Romanian village to visit her childhood friend Voichita (), who is a nun at a humble monastery. The two of them grew up together in an orphanage and appear to be bonded closer than siblings, the visitor having come to fetch her friend to take her back to Germany where she has been working. Alina has jobs lined up for them and is anxious to leave, but she is delayed by the fact that Voichita has become a true believer at the monastery and is wholly devoted to serving God as well as the strict priest () under whom the sisters do their daily tasks.

Alina tries to fit in while biding her time there, but she is at cross purposes with both the priest and the Mother Superior () almost from the start, throwing tantrums at a man she considers a blowhard hypocrite and reacting violently when the nuns try to contain her. Her rages are such that they believe her to be ill and take her to the hospital, but the poorly run institution can do little to help her and releases her back to the church’s care, the doctor prescribing prayer along with the medicines he believes will help the young woman calm down.

There is an attempt to reunite Alina with her foster family, but she chooses to return to the monastery because she can’t let go of hoping that Voichita will still run away with her, incurring the frustration of the priest who knows that letting Alina stay is a bad idea but can’t help but give in to Voichita’s pleas to give the situation a chance. The sisters come to believe that Alina is troubled by evil spirits that need to be freed from her belaboured body, which then takes the situation to an incredible extreme that would eventually grab national headlines in this absorbing drama based on true events (specifically the Tanacu exorcism of 2005).

Measured, carefully underplayed performances are punctuated by the occasional physical outburst and draw us deeper into a vortex of an increasingly alarming tragedy, in which good intentions can do no good to a group of people who are single-minded in their religious passion, and a wider society that has little in the way of support to offer their faith with substantial financial or scientific help. The scenes at the monastery unfold at a quiet pace to mimic the cycles of work and worship that the women keep pace with, and because we are lulled into the rhythm of their lives we come very close to failing to notice how unnatural their reaction to Alina’s emotional outbursts are.

Cristian Mungiu has nothing nice to say about the state itself, a visit to a diplomatic office to arrange exit papers sees Alina facing off with lazy, unprofessional bureaucrats, but the religious ascetics are presented with far more complexity: the Priest’s religious pronouncements may be overcompensating for his own insecurity about his lack of worldliness, and the group’s belief in demon possession may be nothing short of ignorant superstition, but there is a sense that these people actually want the best for both young women despite the devastating choices they make in trying to give it to them. Mungiu intelligently examines the nature of such intense faith without condemning it, the worst acts committed by the religious guardians in this film are done by people who think they are doing what is right and are not presented as villains.

Moody images of inky black clothing against the steely backgrounds make for the feeling that old religious paintings have come to life, while the power of the two lead actresses (who shared the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival) and their magnificent supporting cast (the best of them Tapalaga) keep the weighty running time from ever feeling too long.

The Criterion Collection: 923

European Film Award Nomination: Best Screenplay

Cannes Film Festival Awards: Best Actress (Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan), Best Screenplay

Toronto International Film Festival: 2012

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