Released in Romania as "Dupa dealuri" this is a film from award winning director Christian Mungiu (`4 Months 3 Weeks and 2 Days') who also wrote this his latest outing. It tells the tale of Voichita and Alina who were best friends and apparently lovers at a state run orphanage. Alina has since gone to Germany for work and Voichita has discovered God and is now part of a local monastery. Alina returns to get her friend to join her and when they first meet it is all hugs and smiles.
It soon becomes apparent that Voichita has `moved on' as they say in terms of her feelings and has very much taken to heart her frugal existence in this outpost of Christian Orthodoxy. She live under the tutelage of Papa the priest who is kindly but firm and single mindedly orthodox, having produced a `sin guide' to help believers repent and it contains 464 sins, just to point you in the right direction. The other nuns are led by `Mother Superior' who cares for them a like a big mother hen. They live almost self sufficiently, with no electricity or running water in what looks like permanently cold conditions.
Soon Voichita starts to act more and more bizarrely as she seems to not be able to control her emotional outbursts. Despite their better judgement the nuns decide to help her but only because they feel she must be possessed by Satan himself. What then unfolds is as surprising as it is intriguing and turns into one very dark tale indeed.
This is just excellently made and acted and with a run time of 152 minutes is not for the fair weather viewer. This has led to accusations that the editor could have been more ruthless, but the story is such that it actually benefits from the extra screen time. I was hooked from very early on and the tension increases as the film unfolds and to say I was taken aback by it is an understatement. A film about a run down monastery and a couple of friends where one can lose her temper, is not the sort of synopsis to get your cinematic juices flowing, but this is a remarkable piece of film making that is a definite must see for all cinephiles and lovers of European cinema - highly recommended indeed.
This is a compelling, harrowing and powerful low-key contemporary story set in an Orthodox Christian convent in rural Romania and based on a real-life incident. Themes of faith, obsession, liberty and fear are intelligently explored as we observe the peaceful stability of the convent being disrupted by the arrival of Alina, an obdurate young woman determined to take her friend Voichita back to Germany with her. Alina’s reaction to Voichita’s decision to remain where she is sets off a chain of tragic events, which not only lays bare the tension between secular life and religious faith but also reveals the hypocrisy, petty cruelty, indifference and lack of charity of the country’s secular agencies. The cinematography is distinctly austere and documentary in style, exuding a palpable sense of poverty as we observe the nuns in near-constant work within their institution, a collection of ramshackle buildings lacking electricity and surviving mostly, it seems, on faith and devotion. The events leading to the gradually unfolding tragedy are presented in a mundane, matter-of-fact manner and when the inevitable happens it is not necessarily such a surprise. This is a long film, full of sadness and pain, which will not be to everyone’s taste, but in my opinion a remarkable and important film.
This is easily the most impressive, virtually flawless film I`ve seen so far this year, or indeed for many a moon. It`s set for most of its lengthy running time at a hillside monastery in Rumania, where Voichita (a luminous, alert performance by Cosmina Stratan) is a young nun, visited by her onetime friend and lover the impetuous Alina (Cristina Flutur superb in a difficult role), who assumes their relationship will continue much as before, without reckoning on the dogmas and time-honoured routine of the establishment into which she has strayed like a lost waif. I was riveted by every moment of this beautiful film. One thing which struck me was how none of the actors seemed to look like they were acting their parts at all. This isn`t to say that the story is told in some drearily `naturalistic` way, as if dramatic momentum counts for nothing. Far from it. But you do forget that this is a film like any other (yet so unlike most others) that has been directed, produced, rehearsed, acted, etc. Dana Tapalaga deserves mention as the Mother Superior, a kind but firm older woman with a serene, often otherworldly demeanour, who comes into her own the more the film progresses. Valeriu Andriuta as the personable priest, hidden behind his impressive beard, is excellent too, in an unshowy performance of a fairly showy, paternalistic character. The black-clad nuns under his protection work perfectly together, often required to move en masse, like a flock of crows. Each has as much of a distinct personality as the tale will allow, some flighty or girlish, others stern or reserved. The arrival of Alina sets in motion a series of unwanted crises, which the hermetic religious society "beyond the hills" is hard-pressed to deal with. Some of the ensuing scenes have a near-farcical aspect, as the out-of-control Alina is ferried from one `cell` to another, or to be `read over` in the chapel by the ever more despairing priest. Voichita all this time is arguably the most ambiguous figure, simperingly kind to her old friend (with whom she grew up in an orphanage) while needing to be true to her chosen vocation as an obedient nun. The last scenes of this remarkable film are both alarming and, to some extent, cathartic. The very last scene - which I won`t give away - is perfectly judged. The world "outside" goes on in its usual mundane, fallible fashion, while the very last shot speaks volumes... It isn`t often one sees a film which defies criticism, but this is one such. The other thing to say in its favour is that, rather like a Chekhov story, the film refuses to judge - at least until the end, when one character lets rip with a tirade of angry words - but prefers to show the unfolding of events, letting us decide for ourselves the rights and wrongs or otherwise of the actions of these well-meaning, somewhat ill-equipped people. A masterpiece.
I found "Beyond The Hills" moving, though-provoking and disturbing, and I loved it. It is directed by the critically acclaimed Romanian director Cristian Mungiu, known to show life as it is, a master of austere naturalism, disciplined narrative and unforgiving honesty in portraying life in a troubled Eastern European country (and life in the monastery, so isolated from the modern world that it feels medieval).
The film takes place in an Orthodox nunnery in Romania, where Alina has just been reunited with her childhood friend Voichita after spending several years in Germany. The two young women (both actresses shared an award for their outstanding performances at the 2012 Cannes Film festival) shared more than meets the eye, and it is gently let on they were more than just friends. Alina desires Voichita to leave and return with her to Germany, but Voichita has found a new home and family in the religion and the monastery, she refuses to leave. In her attempt to win back Voichita's affection, Alina challenges the father of the convert, challenges the life in monastery and rebels against the religious way of life. She is taken to hospital, her behaviour is manic and violent and the sisters of the monastery start to suspect that she is possessed. The doctor in the Romanian hospital prefers to send her back to recover at the monastery (shockingly offering either a choice of sharing bed with other patient, or be an outpatient). Alina is included in the monastic routine in the hope that she will get better and find piece. But her condition worsens and she finally finds herself tied down (with chains) to a wooden plank (cross) to prevent her from hurting herself. The priest and nuns decide to read her prayers to deliver those possessed by the devil. They perform an exorcism, but the result is not what they had hoped, and the inevitable end follows (with unavoidable conclusion).
This is an extremely powerful film, more so that it is based on a true story. The acting, the cinematography, the atmosphere - everything is flawless (and more than 2 hours of the films just flew past me, I was engrossed and loved every minute of the film). I cannot recommend it enough, more so that it touches important aspects of the everyday life, the clash between religion and civil life, modern world and faith in God, and ultimately, what is right and acceptable and was is not. The director presents the drama as it unfolds, and I felt black and white were never so grey.
The road to hell is paved with good intentions... And who is there to blame?
Romanian film-maker Cristian Mungiu’s 2012 follow-up to his powerful 4 Weeks, 3 Months and 2 Days is another harrowing and austere take on the man’s home country and (for me, at least) provides an even more memorable (read devastating) piece of cinema than the earlier film. Where Mungiu scores particularly highly is in his even-handed (and uncompromising) treatment of the two worlds portrayed here – namely those of the 'progressive’ pairing of disadvantaged young women, Cristina Flutur’s Alina and Cosmina Stratan’s Voichita, and that where the latter has 'taken refuge’ (on Alina leaving her to find work in Germany) – a remote Romanian Orthodox convent, run by Valeriu Andriuta’s priest. Despite the vast chasm that exists between the priest’s puritanical (and frequently doctrinaire) world and that inhabited by most western societies (here, represented by Alina), Mungiu does not overtly manipulate our sympathies – the priest and his obedient nuns are totally authentic (and, essentially, well-meaning) in their commitment to their (voluntary) way of life and beliefs. Mungiu’s film thus works both as a powerful lesson in the consequences of the collision between 'spiritual’ and 'human/physical’ love, and as a simple and deeply felt love story between Alina and Voichita.
Running to 150 minutes, Mungiu does a remarkable job – in what is a relatively slow, episodic narrative – to maintain audience engagement, largely as a result of the brilliantly realistic portrayals by his lead actresses. Alina arrives at Voichita’s 'new home’ in the hope that the pair will elope together, but soon realises that Voichita’s world has changed, apparently for good, and she now has another love in her life. What follows is an increasingly tense and dramatic stand-off between the progressively more disturbed Alina and Voichita’s new existence, the culmination of which is as harrowing a piece of cinema as I have seen in a long time. Not exactly a barrel of laughs, then, but Mungiu does pepper his film with some darkly comic moments, such as that where Voichita’s fellow nuns recite the 464 confessional sins, allowing Alina to pick those of which she is ‘guilty’, and some brilliant lines, such as that of a nun, when informed that Alina went off to work in Germany for a time, 'I hope she didn’t join a cult’.
Mungiu’s film is relatively unfussy in its look and feel, though Oleg Mutu’s cinematography is certainly impressive, particularly during the later snow-bound sequences of the remote convent. There are, however, some brilliant moments of (often ironic) symbolism, such as the film’s opening sequence as Voichita pushes against a tide of onrushing commuters and those, following the film’s dramatic denouement, where Voichita first meets a car, expecting to find church-goers, only to find 'land hunters’, then the hospital’s 'realist’ doctor and the bantering ambulance staff.
Beyond The Hills provides one of the most powerful depictions of its themes that I have seen since the likes of Black Narcissus, The Magdalene Sisters and Ida. Similarly, Mungiu is one of the most promising of ‘East European’ film-makers, along with the likes of Russian Andrey Zvyagintsev, and one certainly worth keeping an eye on.
I'm upset that this 'Artificial Eye' release includes no special features, subtitle options, and lazy DVD authoring but the film it self is one of my favourites.
And I say that because you can see the effort that went into this film on from the actors and certainlky form the direction. There's a heaviness to it that eastern Europeans are good at. The heaviness is, I think, a genuine result of their suppressive history. In this case, the communist legacy lingers over the greater setting of Romania, while a pocket culture of superstitious nuns in an old monastery is doubly suppressive.
The viewer may find himself siding with the dogmatic mindset of the nuns just to keep the peace that is upset by an exhaustively intrusive and obsessive lesbian who refuses to leave the stubborn and insular community to be what it is.
No character in this film is light and carefree and just wants to live life happily. Like with many Eastern European films, as opposed to French and American films, that mindset does not exist in this world. At least not in a way westerners like me would recognize it. Everyone seems consumed by something.
Watched this film at our local Arts cinema last night.It is riveting for the first nearly two hours and then became a bit of a strain.It is too much long and desperately needed editing down.The performances of two female leads is brilliant, as indeed in general, the direction.There is a real sense of the religious fervour created within the monastery.The desperate feelings of loss , abandonment and jealousy in Alina are convincingly portrayed. A film for cineasts who are prepared to stick with a powerful but rather too long film. Brian Kelly
A very interesting story about the conflict between religios love and physical (human love).The film relied on story and acting and a unique setting . It wasarefreshing change from the computer generated mayhem.