Beyond the Hills (2012) — Image via

Beyond the Hills

Directed by Cristian Mungiu (2012)

Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri) is the third feature by director Cristian Mungiu, whose 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007. Based on actual events as documented by journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran in two nonfiction novels, the film’s gradually unfolding narrative recounts the tragedy of a fragile personality caught between ignorance and indifference.

Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur), the protagonists of Beyond the Hills, grew up together in an orphanage in rural Romania, where they had a close and almost certainly sexual relationship. Alina was eventually taken in by a foster family who seem to have viewed her largely as a source of household labor, and she has since moved to Germany for work. At the beginning of the film, Alina returns to Romania to visit Voichita, who has entered a remote Orthodox monastery as a nun, and tries to convince her to come to Germany so they can be together.

Beyond the Hills (2012) — Image via dupadealuri.roWe gradually come to see that separation from Voichita is not the only thing troubling Alina. She is obsessive, paranoid and prone to throwing violent fits, and it does not appear that any of the institutions of modern society are prepared to help her. After one of her fits, the residents of the monastery take her to a nearby hospital, where she is sedated, prescribed antipsychotics and then released. The priest in charge of the monastery agrees to take her back in, and his and the nuns’ complete inability to help her despite their apparently sincere desire to do so provides the film with one of its central points of tension.

Mungiu’s scrupulous objectivity opens up virtually every scene to multiple reactions and interpretations. For instance, when the nuns help Alina prepare for confession by going through a checklist of more than 400 sins to identify which she has committed, the viewer can simultaneously laugh at the absurdity of the exercise, understand how the nuns are using the limited and primitive tools at their disposal in an honest effort to help Alina overcome her troubles, and recognize that their intervention will be of no help and is in fact likely to do additional harm.

As for Voichita, throughout much of the film, she strives to find compatibility between her compassion for Alina and her attraction to the rigid and orderly worldview of the monastery, an effort that ultimately proves futile. Eventually, the reality of the events going on around her cannot help but intrude on her preconceived certainties. In many cases, this patient and complicated film will have a similar effect on viewers.

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Eric Prindle

administers Bad Entertainment. He is also an attorney who leads a team of legal marketing copywriters at FindLaw. He is not Eric Prindle, the mixed martial arts fighter.