Christopher256G's Profile - Rotten Tomatoes

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Beyond The Hills
2 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Of all the many, many foreign language films I have seen, only a sparse handful are from Romania, but every one of them has impressed me with their rich detail, and their sensibilities to the lives of people in their country. Beyond the Hills, directed by Cristian Mungiu (who also did the masterful 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) continues in that pattern. It tells the story of two young women, longtime friends who grew up together in an orphanage. Their lives have taken very different paths while they've been apart. One, Voichita, played by Cosmina Stratan, has found a calling as a nun in a Romanian convent; the other, Alina, played by Cristina Flutur, has lived in Germany for work, and once they reunite there's a tension from the start. The person that each has become, conflict with the relations they used to have to each other-relations of a deeper sort at least one of them wants to rekindle once more.

While both young ladies staying at the convent, Alina is impatient with her friend's Orthodox piousness, and angry with the other nuns and the head priest there, and she acts outs erratically and at times violently. Voichita meanwhile tries to make Alina find her way in God. Both these performances, of almost polar-opposite tones, come in vivid believability. Flutur's wildness is extraordinary to see, but Stratan's emotive restraint is nearly as impressive. The pace of the story builds gradually but never uninterestingly, rich with the Romanian setting and character interactions, making scenes of even apparent mundane tasks compelling (a scene of Voichita getting her friend a document reminded me a lot of a scene in Mungiu's, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, where one the main character tries to register a hotel room for her friend to get an abortion in). It's has a gritty realism that doesn't typically shock (though there is at least one big shock) as much as it gets under the viewer's skin.

Beyond the Hills is not an easy film to watch, particularly in the turn it takes towards the end. I won't say much about it other than it concerns very much how the push and pull conflict of the two protagonists comes to ahead in a sequence of ignorant decisions based on superstition (in addition to the lack of interest of people outside the convent). At the end, there's a shot of somebody's face that will not be easily forgotten. This is a film which rewards patience and appreciation of detail, and though at nearly two and a half hours it is not a slog at all if you let it draw you in. It's not quite at the level of 4 Month, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, but, thanks in large part to the two strong leads and the director's building of their story, it comes quite close.