Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu has delivered another wonderful and complex film in his latest offering, Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri). The film won for Best Screenplay and the two lead actresses won a shared award earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival. The film centers around Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur), two women that grew up together in an orphanage in Romania, that have gone in two separate directions in life. Alina has left for Germany, to free herself from her past and Voichita has gone to a monastery in the hillside, to become a nun. Alina comes back to get some paperwork and documents in Romania, but wants Voichita to come back with her to Germany. As she stays at the monastery, things get complicated and Voichita becomes conflicted between her faith and her best friend. At 150 minutes, Beyond the Hills is a slow burn of a film that manages to examine the complexity of faith and friendship, through the power of its cinematography, captivating performances and a fantastic script that shows how accomplished Cristian Mungiu is as a filmmaker.
The very first image of the film, a handheld shot of Voichita walking against a group of people getting off two trains, gives us the necessary implications of her struggles between her faith and the people around her, that oppose her relationship with Alina. From here, Mungiu manages to show the difficulty of retaining faith through Voichita, as well as show some criticism towards the Orthodox Church, that Voichita has become a part of and given her life for. Stratan and Flutur’s performances as the two women are extremely well done and the way that Mungiu helps them deliver bits of their history through their performances together shows his skills as both a screenwriter and a director.
Working with his collaborator from 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days, Cinematographer Oleg Mutu manages to capture the existential conflict within Voichita. The grey area that she struggles with in her faith, is reflected by the muted tones, dilapidated buildings and overall camerawork that beautifully reinforces the films themes through its imagery. The final image that the film imparts is one of a harsh truth, that everyone gets dirty, no matter how much one’s faith can carry them.
With this film continuing the strength of Cristian Mungiu’s work and carrying the torch for the Romanian New Wave, Beyond The Hills is a film that demands to be seen and shall remain with those who have witnessed it.
Beyond The Hills plays on October 12th at 8:15 p.m. and October 15th at 8:30 p.m. at the 48th Chicago International Film Festival.