Movie Review: Beyond the Hills
By Matthew Huntley
March 5, 2013
The way to get people to see the Romanian film Beyond the Hills would be to market it as a traditional exorcism movie. Cut the trailer to make it look like a dark and chilling thriller about an impious girl who visits a rustic monastery and the priest and nuns begin to suspect there’s an evil lurking inside of her that manifests itself through odd behavior, anger and violent outbursts. Then suggest the priest must perform one of those age-old rituals to save the girl and bring her peace, which involves tying her to a wooden cross.
Yes, that would be the way to get people to see Beyond the Hills, but that’s not why they should see it. The reason to see the film is not for all the usual sensational reasons, but for the questions it proposes about important topics like free will, ethical and moral religious practices, tolerance of alternative lifestyles, truth, and of course, love. The movie is somehow able to be about all of these things, and powerfully so. It is often frustrating to watch, but in a good way, because it invokes reactions and conversations about subjects that aren’t so clear cut and about which everyone has an opinion.
Still there are other reasons to see it, the first being that it’s a very good movie, one that’s well directed, acted and full of penetrating locations and photography that leave their mark on the viewer. If the movie has a flaw, it’s that it’s too long, with too many scenes that feel redundant with those before them. Writer-director Cristian Mungiu is perhaps nervous that all of his points won’t get across and therefore feels like he must present them to us over and over again, lest we miss them. Even though there is not a single bad scene in the movie, one of the keys to good storytelling is brevity and knowing that when a certain point or feeling is established, it’s important to move on and not allow the audience too much time to reflect on it during the film. Give them just enough so they can take it with them and think about it afterward. The film’s constant lingering and repetition also made it frustrating, but not in as good a way as its subject matter.
In modern-day Romania, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) is a nun in an isolated monastery that’s situated high up in the hills overlooking a cold and grim city. The distance between the monastery and the rest of the world sort of leaves it in a position to operate according to its own laws and rules, a notion that becomes more evident as the film progresses and then finally during the tragic ending. When it opens, Voichita, who’s just shy of 30, greets her lifelong friend Alina (Cristina Flutur) at the train station. The two first met when they were little girls at the local orphanage and it’s apparent their relationship was, at one point, romantic as well as friendly, though this is never made explicit.