Search Film Reviews

Monday, March 4, 2013

Beyond the Hills Review

Sundance Selects

Beyond the Hills Review
2013, 150 minutes
Not Rated 

Cristian Mungiu's follow-up to his Palme d'Or-winning masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, is one of the most powerful, disturbing, and provocative indictments of a modern-day society that you are likely to see.  Beyond the Hills follows two young women, Voichita and Alina (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, respectively, in their film acting debuts), who go separate ways after being roommates in an orphanage in rural Romania.  Voichita stayed by the orphanage and became a nun, while Alina moved to Germany.  The two have been lovers since their days at the orphanage.  One day, Alina decides to return to her home village and stay with Voichita at the monastery causing tension.  This film is based on a true story, which makes it all the more disturbing

Mungiu's film focuses on the tensions between the modern world and conservative religion in modern-day Romania.  His script deservedly won the Best Screenplay award at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. It is never contrived, is always compelling, and frighteningly realistic.  Mungiu's 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days was a scary view of communist Romania, and Beyond the Hills is the perfect complement.  It shows communism's effects on the country and is a scathing critique of the Orthodox Church.  In this story, the Church and modern society cannot coexist.  Voichita and Alina's romance is the first aspect of their lives that doesn't fit into the church.  The priest explicitly makes a statement about how disturbed he is by homosexuality.  Mungiu also takes on the Romanian Orthodox Church's by accusing them of brainwashing their devoted members (the nuns).  When Alina sees Voichita once again, she is frightened by what a changed person her old friend and lover is.  Voichita is no longer the same Voichita that Alina knew.  She is now a product of the church.  

Because Mungiu also directed this film, he is able to keep control over it.  He uses extremely long takes to slow down the already slow pace of the film, but this slow pace complements the movie as it adds to the extreme realism.  The first half of the film keeps a languid pace, mainly to build and develop relationships between characters.  The second half is still languid, but has moments and sequences of intensity to the point that I almost had my mouth open in amazement.

The extreme realism is further heightened by the superb performances by the entire cast from Stratan and Flutur down to the priest and the nuns.  Stratan and Flutur won a double Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival last year for their performances.  They are revelations.  They are completely restrained and have a substantially smaller amount of dialogue than any actress in most other films.  But, what they do not say, they show.  As the film nears its intense climax, their talents are really showcased as pain and agony become the prominent emotions.  Each actress shows pain in a way that few actresses can.  When watching Stratan and Flutur together, I completely forgot that I was watching a movie.  Beyond the Hills never feels like a movie and is never meant to be a piece of entertainment.  This is the least entertaining, but most enriching film to have come along in quite a while.

Overall, Beyond the Hills is another masterpiece from one of the greatest living directors.  Mungiu has once again provided us with a daring critique of Romanian society that manages to inform as well as thrill and horrify.  This is definitely not going to be a film for everyone, but those that are willing to sit through it will be amply rewarded.

-Joshua Handler

No comments:

Post a Comment