Beyond The Hills Reviews
Many critics have labelled Romanian director Mungiu's latest as a cheap shot at religion. Some have compared it to William Friedkin's 'The Exorcist'. I would have to disagree with both these conclusions. Far from attacking religion, Mungiu's film exposes the cruelties of an uncaring state which drives people to religion in search of comfort. The most sympathetic characters in the picture are the members of the convent. They may have a despicable worldview but it's one they genuinely believe in. It would have been easy to paint 'Daddy' as an evil Svengali figure but Mungiu resists the temptation for such a cliche. Despite Alina's suspicions, there's no evidence that the priest is taking advantage of the females in his care. In contrast, the secular authority figures are portrayed as cold and apathetic. When Alina is first brought to the hospital, the nurses moan that she would have been better taken care of at the convent. States who wish to take shortcuts love religious institutions as it means they can pass the weak and vulnerable of society in their direction. When my country, Ireland, won independence from Britain, the same thing happened. The government was broke but the church was loaded and so the task of running the country's education, health and care industries were passed to the church. The horror stories are still emerging to this day. We all know people who condemn the church yet are happy to avail of its services when they wish to hold a marriage or a funeral. These are the people Mungiu is attacking: the hypocrites who moan about religion but are happy to use it when it suits their needs.
The film is based on a real-life event, which makes comparisons to 'The Exorcist' ridiculous. It's clear that Alina is not suffering any form of possession. The hospital claims ignorance about her affliction because they simply want her off their hands. Due to their way of thinking, the members of the convent automatically see something they can't explain as the work of God or, in this case, the devil. If a comparison can be made to any successful mid-seventies film it's Milos Forman's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Like Jack Nicholson's McMurphy in that film, Alina enters an institution with plans of disruption but quickly learns the hard way that the house always wins.
With stunning performances across its cast and brilliant direction from Mungiu, 'Beyond the Hills' is a must-see for believers and skeptics alike.
Where individuals do scrape a space for themselves you almost wish they hadn't.
What is really mysterious is that the film is riveting.
Go figure, but see the film first.
This time around, director stays in the present (months, weeks, days happened in the late eighties) in the story set in a remote orthodox monastery, where nun Voichita (Cosmina Stratan)receives a visitor from Germany, her friend Alina (Cristiana Frutun, both very convincing). Two girls were friends in the orphanage, became something more (we can be pretty sure of that) later, had an arrangement to go work together abroad, but that's now in danger of being delayed because Voichita has found in the monastery life calm and security she feels she has no chance of getting anywhere else. Alina decides to stay with her for a while, with both girls showing substantial dependency on one another, without the courage to admit their paths can't go in the same direction any more.
Alina's attempts to adjust to a life in monastery and become member of a community whose strict readings of The Bible she has no desire of accepting induce few convulsions of rage, prompting the well-meaning priest to believe she is possessed by Satan. The cure is one many moviegoer's have seen on the big screen in the last 40 years, but not often, if ever, in a picture like this.
There are several times when we follow characters leaving the monastery and interacting with regular people. They visit dreary, unequipped hospitals, cold rooms of the police station , take a quick gaze in the hopelessness of the orphanage Alina and Voichita grew up in. After a while, those scenes cause the movie to loose direction. Social themes, structurally set in the background, come to the fore in an intensity that does damage to the balance of the entire piece. Voichita, burdened with group mentality, takes the sacral direction mainly because she has been either failed by other formal institutions, or she has had no reason to rely on their help. In the monastery, separated, she knows all of the promises, though modest, will be fulfilled in the end.
The other conflict, one that puts the ostensible security of blind faith against the risks of giving confidence to another human being threatens to fade away as a consequence of the permeation mentioned above. One gets the feeling that all of the time spent inside the church walls has no real purpose, other than stressing out the social context. As a consequence, some might find the exorcism scenes sensationalist or out of place. Either way, their futility remains.
Mungiu can probably justify two and a half hours running time with a carefully choreographed turn of events, where he needed the last half an hour to put a stamp on many points he pursued. Still, one truth remains. All the layers of suggestive darkness that soak the screen from the first minutes (this is one of those pictures where shades of black are covered by the shades of gray) can't conceal the lack of one memorable scene. Everything is staged with monotonous expertise, as if writer-director thought some small burst of spontaneity would violate his overwrought plan. I'm talking, for example about that wonderful scene in Ceylan's Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, where the first appearance of a female figure, almost an hour into a film, makes both us and the characters forget about everything else. In a picture with contemplative pace this strict, we have a right to expect at least one of those.
For the Patriot Ledger
Cristian Mungiu made his filmmaking breakthrough with the devastating -- and devastatingly good -- Romanian abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days." And it often feels like it takes that amount of time for his long awaited follow-up, "Beyond the Hills," to unspool. But even though his languorous horror story about good intentions gone bad drags, your patience is hugely rewarded when it all comes together in the final 30 of its butt-crushing 152 minutes.
What a shocker that ending is, too. And what makes it so unnerving is that it's largely true, culled from a nonfiction novel by BBC reporter Tatiana Niculescu Bran about a botched exorcism at a remote Moldavian monastery in 2005. To say anymore would spoil the experience of willing yourself to Mungiu, who like all innovative artists can be as maddening as he is amazing. It's mostly the latter, although you don't fully realize it until the final credits. Before that point, you may -- like me -- find yourself wishing that Mungiu had hired a more judicious editor than Mircea Olteanu, who regularly fills the screen with long static shots of nuns toiling in the frozen, snow-covered confines of the rustic, hillside monastery.
It is into this staid, unforgiving environs that 25-year-old Alina (Cristina Flutur) becomes entrapped while paying a visit to her friend - and former lover - Voichita (Cosmina Stratan, sharing best actress honors with Flutur at Cannes in 2012), now a snowbound novice under the beguiling influence of the monastery's bearded priest, known to everyone as "Papa" (Valeriu Andriuta). From the start, Alina and Voichita are operating from opposite agendas. Alina wants Voichita to leave the monastery and join her in taking jobs aboard a German cruise ship. But Voichita, who has long since renounced her homosexual "sins," has designs on saving Alina's troubled soul. Chaos - well, as much chaos that could possibly arise at a religious outpost devoted to providing food for orphans - ensues, and the more vehemently Voichita refuses to leave, the more irate Alina becomes, especially when her childhood friend repeatedly resists her sensual touches. Are Alina's protests those of a jilted ex-lover or signs of a woman possessed by the devil?
What happens next is ghastly, not in the tradition of rote exorcism movies, but in the ugliness of human nature, which as we all know can be far scarier than a little girl spewing pea soup while her head spins like a top. And as he proved with "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," Mungiu is a master at getting under your skin and making it crawl. He does it so sneakily, too, that you're unprepared for all the frights he has in store. He also possesses an equally sly sense of humor that manifests itself largely through the cluelessness of Alina's half-witted brother, Ionut (Ionut Ghinea), and her quack doctor (Costache Babii), who believes the best way to calm a patient is by strapping her to her bed.
Where Mungiu truly excels is in his mastery of imagery, whether it's the forbidding winter mirroring the forbidding (and hypocritical) nature of religion, or fastening a body to a wooden cross as a means of helping that person see the error of their ways. And what do you know, that cross makes its appearance right smack in the middle of lent. Such scenes are so striking, yet so pure, that you'd swear Mungiu has inherited the spirit of Ingmar Bergman. All that's missing is the stark black-and-white photography. Yet, like Bergman, experiencing Mungiu can occasionally be a chore. But when the end results are as spectacular as "Beyond the Hills," it's truly a religious experience.