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Beyond the Hills Movie Review - -

Beyond The Hills
Reviewed by Damien Straker on August 8th, 2013
presents a film directed by Cristian Mungiu
Screenplay by Cristian Mungiu
Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur and Valeriu Andriuta
Running Time: 150 minutes
Rating: M
Released: August 8st, 2013



In 2005 a Romanian nun was bound and gagged and tied to a makeshift cross. She was dehydrated, starved and suffocated for three days until she died. The people in the Romanian village of Tanacu who had imprisoned and murdered twenty-three year old Irina Maricica Cornici were a monk and four other nuns belonging to the Orthodox Church. They had been attempting to perform an exorcism on Irina because they believed that she had been possessed by the devil. She was previously diagnosed by a hospital as suffering from schizophrenia. Two years later, the priest was sentenced to fourteen years in prison.

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) has written a friendship of two girls around these events, while still treating the case with accuracy and tact. He has stated that he wanted to make a film about the passivity of the world and to encourage people to have an opinion, rather than merely accepting daily habits as inconsequential. He has also said that he didn't want the film to be made of goodies and baddies. The natural performances from several first time actors sidestep the trap of simplicity. The film is a critique of the dangers of segregated communities. It is not an anti-religious film but one that displays the incompatibility of the values of the inner and outside world. Where do we stand once we realise both are as oppressive and doomed as each other?

In their first feature roles Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan play Alina and Voichita, two girls who used to live in an orphanage but were separated. Alina returns from Germany to visit Voichita who is now living in a convent as a nun. They used to belong to each other but Voichita declares that she Alina in a different way now and that her heart is strictly with God. The convent they are staying in has no electricity and supposedly no regard for money either. It relies on manual labour from the other nuns and also the head priest (Valeriu Andriuta). The regime is strict because the priest has little patience for any scandals and the rules are dogmatic. Chaos erupts when the other girls claim that Alina tried to hurt herself and began attacking people and she has to be taken to hospital.

Mungiu has a staggering eye for detail and great patience for visualising spatiality. Using clear handheld cameras, many scenes are filmed in long, single takes and the duration of the shots shows the containment of the spatiality of the nuns' lives and the remoteness of the community. The effect of static formalism is that it infers their lack of consciousness about the outside world and modern sensibilities and values. Similarly, a wide angle shot from the top of the hill expresses the physical and mental distance between the Church and the rest of the society. Subtle contrasts in costumes, including the black robes of the nuns juxtaposed again Alina's Rebook tracksuit top further visualise the conflict of the two worlds and their values.

Personalising the notion of the spiritual pitched against the modern world are the relationships of the girls. Alina and Voichita's conversations are a binary forged between two contrasting ideas of love: those who believe in the tangible and physical meaning and spiritual satisfaction through prayer and dedication only to God. Voichita confesses her faith to Alina: "I've got someone else in my soul now". Both performances are pitched with a quiet naturalism that prevents their immensely convincing work from straying into caricatures. Voichita and the priest aren't portrayed as villains but as people who are unfamiliar with the outside world and unshakable in their faith because this is how they've been conditioned and how they discipline themselves.

One final image in the film fascinates but also reveals some limitations. It is the sight from the police car of a modern world that is loud, unruly and disrespecting of the law. How would some of these characters respond in the outside world? Is there any hope that they will adapt to the modern world when they are taken to gaol and have to come to terms with the boundaries of modern society? By working strictly in the frame of the real events, thorough character development isn't on Mungiu's mind. He ends the film with a brilliantly provocative note but one that is also verging closely on unsalvageable nihilism for humanity.  


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