Beyond the Hills (4 stars)

Beyond the Hills

A drama about female conflict in post-Ceaușescu Romania, from director Cristian Mungiu

Quietly chilling Romanian drama from Cristian Mungiu.

‘Nothing signifies anything’, director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) says in an interview in Cineaste magazine, warding off symbolic interpretation of his new film about two friends brought up in an orphanage.

One, Alina (Cristina Flutur) has returned to Romania after working in Germany; the other, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) has moved from one institution to another: from the orphanage to a monastery. As Alina visits her friend and tries to persuade her to leave, so a battle over Voichita’s soul (does she choose God or Alina?) becomes instead a much more fundamental battle over Alina’s. Alina’s confrontational personality at the monastery segues into what the nuns and priest see as possession, and we’re left wondering to what degree Alina is a strong personality in a weak environment, or that for all the dubious beliefs those in the monastery possess, they are still strong next to Alina’s fluidity.

In various ways a continuation of the thematic relevancies of 4 Months... this is very much post-Ceaușescu Romania (based on an actual case from 2005), but the regime’s effects are still felt. The girls were brought up in one of the many orphanages that grew out of the dictator’s contraception ban: a ban leading to many unwanted births, just as Ceausescu’s anti-abortion policy became the subject of 4 Months.... Equally, the film explores the issue of friendship (in this case perhaps sexual) against the backdrop of pressing events that test the very notion of what love and friendship mean.

Mungiu’s style is consistent with new Romanian cinema (The Death of Mr Lazarescu; Police, Adjective; 12:08 East of Bucharest): long takes, obtrusive yet often narratively irrelevant off-screen sound, generally subdued colour schemes, and actions that contain within them a stronger element of inaction. Mungiu is a director more interested in the process of events than the narrative role they play, and watching Beyond the Hills it is useful to keep in mind Mungiu’s insistence 'that cinema begins when you no longer use images to illustrate a written story'. Here, the director's quietly chilling account of a potentially exploitative subject shows once again why Romanian film matters.

Limited release from Fri 15 Mar.

Beyond the Hills Trailer

Beyond the Hills

  • 4 stars
  • 2012
  • Romania / France / Belgium
  • 2h 30min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Cristian Mungiu
  • Written by: Cristian Mungiu
  • Cast: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta
  • UK release: 15 March 2013

Alina (Flutur) and Voichita (Stratan) were brought up in a Romanian orphanage, but while Voichita has moved to a monastery, Alina has lived and worked in Germany, and now wants her friend to join her. Quietly chilling drama from 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days director Mungiu.