The screenplay for writer/director Cristian Mungiu’s challenging new film Beyond the Hills culminates two non-fictional novels by Tatiana Niculescu Bran to document the fascinating case of a young woman dying at a Maldovian monastery following an exorcism in 2005.
The film’s two main characters, Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), grow up in a rural Romanian orphanage where they become each other’s family. Alina is adopted at 19 and later heads to Germany to find work, while Voichita finds refuge in an Orthodox monastery, following her calling to become a nun. Growing increasingly isolated, Alina returns to Romania in an attempt to convince her childhood friend to leave the church and join her in creating a life together; however Voichita is reluctant to leave not only God but also the new family she has found in the monastery. In an effort to remain with her friend, Alina also pledges herself to the church. The fateful chain of events that ensue, in which Alina’s suspected schizophrenia is mistaken for demonic possession, lead to a naively callous exorcism and, ultimately, tragedy.
The story is told through lingering takes which are tedious at times, but this lengthy film (a smidgen over two and a half hours) is nonetheless engrossing. The steady build to the final crescendo is captivating, raising personal questions for the two protagonists and consequently exploring traditional issues of morality and religion, and the challenging spaces where these concepts interact.
Premiering at Cannes Film Festival 2012, Beyond The Hills has won multiple awards including Best Screenplay and Best Actress. Despire such acclaim, however, this is a work that will divide people mainly due to its overwhelming bleakness. Here’s hoping Mungiu’s prowess as a filmmaker continues to be praised, but for some, the many confronting questions that remain unanswered might lessen viewers’ desire to dig any further for fear of the possible truths they may find.
BY LEE HUTCHISON
Beyond The Hills is in cinemas now.