No filmmaker carefully watches young women in crisis like the the great Romanian director Cristian Mungiu–paying profound attention to crisis of the body, in his masterpiece “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days,” and of the spirit, in “Beyond the Hills.”
After several years of working in Germany, Alina (Cristina Flutur) returns home to rural Romania, spurred by her loving bond to Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), with whom she had grown up in an orphanage. Leaving the train, she pushes her way through the mass of travelers streaming toward her.
In Alina’s absence, Voichita dealt with aging out of the state system by becoming a novice nun, fulfilling her need for family, and finding faith in an Orthodox convent. Initially contained (and confident) about her request to Voichita to return with her to Germany to work on a cruise ship, Alina becomes increasingly aggressive toward the small religious community as Voichita repeatedly refuses to abandon her new life.
Alina is sent to a local hospital, perfunctorily treated. But upon her discharge, her distress escalating, the priest and nuns subject her to the reading of the prayers of St. Basil–in effect, a rigorous exorcism–with horrific results. In the aftermath, the police load the priest and nuns into their van and as they near the station house, stopped in traffic, the final shot is through the window of the vehicle, as dirt and slush slap against the windshield and are promptly and simply eliminated by the wipers.
Inspired by two non-fiction novels by journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Mungiu’s starkly beautiful film, shot in pitiless, cold winter light, deals with love, free will in lives with limited choices and what the director calls “the sin of indifference.”
Mungiu was awarded Best Screenplay in Cannes in 2012. Flutur and Stratan, in their first feature film, shared the Best Actress prize. (In no way to detract from their achievement, Emmanuelle Riva’s punch to the gut performance in “Amour” was ineligible. The rules of Cannes specifiy that no other award can be given to a Palme d’Or winning film.)
“Beyond the Hills” will open Friday, March 8 in New York at the IFC Center and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema and in Los Angeles, with a national roll-out to follow. It will also be available nationwide on March 14 on Sundance Selects’ video-on-demand platform.