MIFF: Beyond The Hills

Romanian director Cristian Mungiu\'s impressive follow-up to \'4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days\' is an unsettling psychological drama - and one of this year\'s best.

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Cristian Mungiu’s fine religious drama Beyond the Hills presents two tragedies, both involving characters unable to differentiate their desires from their needs. 24-year-old Alina (Cristina Flutur) has returned to Romania to remove her childhood friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) from an Orthodox monastery. Voichita, however, has found God there, and refuses to leave, leading to a stalemate between the two characters.  

Like Mungiu’s previous film – the excellent 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days Beyond the Hills is filmmaking of a considerably higher level than most films of its genre. Not only is the film more elegantly constructed than most thrillers – on a story level – but its characters are endlessly fascinating. Refreshingly, the film’s mystery involves a character need rather than some convoluted conspiracy: each person (from her foster parents to the hospital staff) has a very different idea of what Alina requires.

Mungiu sets up well-drawn arcs and motivations for each of the characters, and their responses to Alina’s actions never venture outside of their clearly defined psychological parameters for story or genre reasons. This is especially true of the monastery’s priest (Valeriu Andriuta). In a lesser film, he may have been presented as either a hero or a villain, but his reasonable and empathetic reasoning gives shocking gravity to his later decisions. This integrity on a writing level gives the film true psychological dimension: no matter how extreme they may seem, the characters’ beliefs are never vilified.

Mungiu’s film features many long takes, so he can’t cut around the performances, which makes the actors’ achievements that much more stunning. First-time actors Stratan and Flutur handle the challenges of their roles with great skill, with Stratan especially suggesting the character’s pain with convincing naturalism. The other performers support seemingly effortlessly, elegantly fitting into the austere environment.  

Subtle, nuanced and extremely intelligent, Beyond the Hills is one of the best films of the year.

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