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Thursday, 04 April 2013 00:00

‘Beyond the Hills’ balances lives before God

‘Beyond the Hills’ balances lives before God www.guardian.co.uk
Written by Martha K. Baker
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About this Media...

  • Director: Cristian Mungiu
  • Dates: Opened April 5, 2013

Where do you turn for succor when you are lost? Alina, a young Romanian woman, returns to her love, her sister by choice, her dear friend, Voichita. Alina arrives from Germany, where she’s run from her foster family, taken in just for the work she can provide. She sees Voichita and runs to her. 

She runs across railroad tracks and grabs her like a life line thrown to a sinking skiff. She sees her old friend, but she does not see her old friend’s new habit, a long, dark dress and a veiling black scarf, and she certainly does not see her old friend’s new cloak of religion. Alina thinks that all she has to to is show up and Voichita will leave all that stuff behind and they can start a new life, maybe back in Germany, a more hospitable country now than Romania.

That struggle -- between the austere and the wishful, between the sacred and the profane, between the hungry and the sated -- that struggle is the tension in many works of art. Cristian Mungiu wrote the screenplay for “Beyond the Hills” based on the creative non-fiction of Tatiana Bran. He took the true story of an exorcism gone horribly wrong, and he created a story of bleakness and hopelessness braided with Christian insanity.

As director, Mungiu presents this story of two young women in a different light from the one he shined on two young women in “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” his 2007 film about an abortion in a Communist country. “Beyond the Hills” is centered in a monastery with no electricity and only well water. A priest and a mother superior serve as the surrogate parents to a passel of lost girls and women, and the priest is lost, too. The intrusion of Alina, crazed and hungry and hopeful, is too much for their means, either spiritual or earthly. They try. They do. They all do. Voichita tries to appease her friend, to bring her to Christ, to settle her; Alina tries to make her beloved see that the monastery is not the place for her, for them.

Christina Flutur plays Alina with devastation, setting her eyes on laser beam. Cosmina Stratan is Voichita, trying to set limits on a catastrophe. It is on her face, stripped of her veil, that the light and camera concentrate in the last scene, the camera poised over the darkly coifed heads of the religious in black, the crows, as Alina calls them.

“Beyond the Hills” is not sensational or spectacular. It is unrelenting at two and a half hours long, and it is political as only the domestic can be. “Beyond the Hills” is chilling. 

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