Beyond the Hills
Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur in Beyond the Hills
Film Title: Beyond the Hills
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Cosmina Stratan Cristina Flutur
Running Time: 150 min
The third feature film from ace Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu is an exorcism movie about a lesbian nun and her crazed former lover. Hang on. Is Eli Roth presenting? This is not the narrative we were expecting from an award-winner at Cannes (best screenplay and best actress) or from the creator of the harrowing backstreet abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days.
Sure enough, Beyond the Hills is not your average lesbian nun exorcism picture. Drawing from Romanian journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran ’s investigations into a real-life exorcism tragedy, Mungiu’s screenplay pivots noiselessly around abstract ideas of separation and loss, superstition and ideology.
Voichita (Cosmina Stratan ) is a devout novice nun living in an orthodox convent in rural Moldova when Alina (Cristina Flutur ), her childhood friend, comes to stay. Alina, lately returned from menial labour in Germany, is suspicious of Voichita’s devotion to the order and to a charismatic priest known simply as Papa (Valeriu Andriuta ).
There are hints that Voichita and Alina’s previous relationship was more than platonic. And when Voichita refuses to be “rescued”, her friend, in turn, refuses to leave. Alina’s subsequent distress and increasingly unhinged behaviour prompts talk of demonic possession in the convent, at first figuratively, then, chillingly, as a possible remedy.
Beautifully and austerely shot by Oleg Mutu, semi-official cinematographer of the Romanian New Wave, Beyond the Hills displays many of the characteristics we’ve come to associate with Mungiu and his Tales of the Golden Age cohorts. There are no extra diegetic crashes and wallops; the cast is mostly nonprofessional; the takes are long.
Mungiu mischievously plays with the rhythm as he plays with everything else. There’s something punkish about the director’s use of long takes: narratively, grammatically, ethically, Beyond the Hills refuse to conform to the rules. This is a tale of two orphan girls – one nominally sacred, one nominally profane – and yet everybody onscreen is too complicated and too flawed to elicit anything other than sympathy and bafflement.
In this spirit, Mungiu’s human comedy leaves off where it begins (spoiler alert): out in the middle of nowhere, no direction home.