MIFF 2012: A heady, spellbinding experience awaits just “Beyond the Hills”
Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri)
Directed by Cristian Mungiu
Written by Cristian Mungiu (inspired by the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran)
At 150 minutes, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is not a second overlong. Extended as its takes may be and as patiently as the narrative progresses to its drained conclusion, there is a heaving sense of urgency to this story of a young woman who was failed by pretty much everyone – including herself – and died because of it. It is a true story in fact, fashioned by Mungiu, with the assistance of Niculescu Bran whose non-fiction novels he drew much inspiration from, into a fine screenplay that contains more religious and anti-religious rhetoric than a movie that ultimately feels this morally cagey has any right to. This might partly be due to the way the director shoots his actors and the way the actors speak his lines, without any undue emphasis or thematic/emotional spotlighting. The naturalism at work here is a masterclass, particularly impressive considering the two co-leads are straight-up non-professionals, who we all know can be at risk of either overacting or underacting, at least more so than those more seasoned.
Alina and Voichita grew up together as girls in a Romanian orphanage and became very close, until Alina was moved to a foster whom which she eventually left for Germany. Beyond the Hills opens with Alina returning to her hometown to visit her old friend, now a sister at a local orthodox monastery beyond some hills. From the outset, it is clear that these two young women had and still have something deep; how deep exactly, though, is never made explicitly clear. Was the relationship Alina and Voichita had ever sexual, or is Alina simply beside herself with joy? When they embrace at the train station where Alina has just alighted, Voichita, dressed in her black nun’s gear, implores her friend not to hug so tightly and for so long lest people being to stare. Either way, Alina makes no secret of her desire to abscond with Voichita so they can be together and work as waitresses on a boat, or something to that effect. Voichita, however, has other plans for herself, ones involving a life of devout service to God, whom she credits with rescuing her from the loneliness and sense of loss that plagued her in the wake of Alina’s departure from the orphanage. Alina does not comprehend Voichita’s new found religiosity and is suspicious of it, adamant that they flee the country together. What seems to follow is a haunting tale that touches on everything from identity and displacement to sexual abuse and repression to religious dogmatism and the failures of the Romanian public service (a nod to The Death of Mr Lazarescu perhaps?). These are complex, weighty topics for any one film to fancy itself capable of tackling at a go and Mungiu rightfully weaves these deep into the fabric of the film, so deep that they may not show but can definitely be felt. But if this film’s subject matter could be articulated in a couple of words they might very well be “the failure of the individual by society.”