Thursday, April 11, 2013

Beyond the Hills

Plenty more I'd like to say about this one, but it ends in Boston (well, Cambridge) today and I need some sleep before work. I do strongly recommend it, though - it covers some fairly familiar ground with what I think is unusual grace, far mroe than I could manage when talking about its subjects (religion, sexuality, mental illness), and leaves an impressive amount for the audience to at least feel like they're figuring out themselves.

One thing I will mention is that I did look original author Tatiana Niculescu Bran up on Wikipedia, and it was interesting from the descriptions of her "non-fiction novels" to see how much Mungiu left out, but sort of didn't. It looks like the end of his movie shifts the ambiguity around a little:


In the description of the books, who is ultimately responsible for Alina's death appears to be vague, with the hospital staff taking potentially dishonest steps to absolve themselves of the blame, causing the priest and nuns to be imprisoned for murder; the film appears to place the blame much more squarely on the exorcism but leaves the ultimate fate of the clergy up in the air, the implication being that the church is too much a part of society for them to completely take the fall.


At any rate, it's worth checking out, even if it is a bit of a long one.

Dupa dealuri (Beyond the Hills)

* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 9 April 2013 in Landmark Kendall Square #4 (first-run, 2K DCP)

Beyond the Hills is a slow builder, with writer/director Christian Mungiu's point almost never in doubt. He knows, though, that you don't change someone's beliefs with one bold demonstration, especially if it's built on a premise that the audience doesn't necessarily believe, so he spends his time nudging, not seeming to do anything big, until finally stepping back, having attacked points that are often far from subtle obliquely but still creating something engrossing.

Things start quietly, with Alina (Christina Flutur) returning to her home village in Romania after having lived in Germany after aging out of an orphanage. She's met by her best friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), who stayed behind to enter a convent. Though Alina protected Voichita when they were children, she is the one who seems fragile now, begging her friend to return abroad with her. Voichita would like to help Alina, but she has found a home in the monastery, and the priest in charge (Valeriu Andriuta) demands her commitment to God be total.

There's a wonderful shot early on in this movie where Alina and Voichita walk away from the town toward the convent which, despite taking them up a mountain, feels like sailing away from a shoreline - the clumped-together buildings a land mass with a very definitive border. The landscape becomes important again toward the end, as mounting snow makes the environment more perilous, despite there not being talk of a storm. I wonder if this is fortuitous or deliberate - the film was shot in sequence, so the filmmakers may have just taken the weather they got and made it work - but it's impressive how Mungiu works these perhaps less-obvious characteristics of the setting more than well-worn ones. He could have had the nuns using horses or donkeys to travel to and from the town to mark their home as a place stuck in the past, for instance.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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