Skillfully weaving a tension-filled story from rich minimalistic elements Beyond the Hill is driven by the landscape of rural Turkish foothills, the stimulus of isolation and by silence. Director Emin Alper remarkably captures these themes within a story of a conflict that knows no end.
Your land is your wealth, but also your heritage. Having roots in small rural villages where people fought and killed over lines drawn too far in or out, or one person’s herd of cow or sheep grazing on another person’s land, I know that the territory, pride, identity are often inseparable concepts that together cause a lot of conflict. For Faik (Tamer Levent), his home is the only one for miles, his family the sole occupants among the steams, the poplar orchards, the goats. But, isolation does little to redirect his attention from a group of artful, threatening, yet elusive nomads who he believes are infringing on his territory.
Faik’s son Nusret (Reha Özcan) and his family live in his home, and his other son Mehmet (Mehmet Ozgur) has come to visit with his two boys, one an immature teenager and the other a young man dealing with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from his time in the army. As Faik continues to obsess over the nomads and what will happen to his land after he dies and as the others avoid confrontation with each other at all costs, everyone is left partially blind to what is going around them, except for Faik who cannot see at all.
There is a pulse throughout Beyond the Hill, a guiding presence that never lets us go. Alper’s ability to use the surroundings and the open spaces to create enough tension, anxiety, suspense, paranoia and drama to keep an audience entirely locked in is remarkable. There is always something palpable within the silence and the stares, and there is a precision of balance felt throughout the film, these moments of perfect execution, where the right cord is struck with total accuracy. Those cords are plucked by the cast as well, who demonstrate the intricacies of their craft superbly.
Beyond the Hill, featured in this year’s World Narrative Competition at the Tribeca Film Festival, is a stand-out example of the depth of the competition this year. I have already seen four competing films that are better than last year’s winner (She Monkeys from Sweden). Emin Alper’s debut feature-length film deserves to be at the front of this formidable pack of films.