Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Review: Beyond the Hills (Christian Mungiu, 2013)

Romanian director Christian Mungiu’s previous feature, the 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a stark social realist drama set in Bucharest in 1987 during the final years of the Ceausescu regime. The story follows two roommates, Gabriela Dragut (Laura Vasiliu) and Otilia Mihartescu (Anamaria Marinca), who board together while they complete their university studies. Gabriela is pregnant, and the women have arranged the hire of a surgeon to complete the abortion, illegal under Natalist policy. He has followed up this grim story with another intense, challenging and thought provoking one, this time set closer to the present day. Beyond the Hills tackles themes of abuse and abandonment, religious fervour, collective oppression and a bureaucratic sanctuary with enclosed and morally questionable methods. Mungiu picked up Best Screenplay and Cosimina Stratan and Cristina Flutur shared the award for Best Actress at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. After over a year touring the festival circuit, it has now opened in cinemas on limited release.

Within an isolated Romanian Orthodox convent, Alina (Cristina Flutur) has been reunited with Voichita (Cosimina Stratan) after spending several years abroad working in Germany. The two women have supported each other since meeting as children in an orphanage. Alina wants Voichita to return with her to work in Germany, but Voichita refuses, having found cleansing refuge in faith and a new family amongst the priest and nuns.

Jealous and heartbroken, Alina attempts to win back Voichita’s affection by challenging the priest (Valeriu Andriuta), who claims that Voichita should not surrender to the lures of the West (an attractive waitress position on a boat). Her behaviour provokes suspicion of evil possession and after a short stint in the hospital Alina is included in the routines of the monastery in the hope that she will find her peace. As her health continues to worsen her behaviour becomes damaging and the priest decides to order extreme action – the results of which are conveyed in the harrowing final third.

Continue reading at Graffiti With Punctuation

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