An occasional film review by Peter Malone.
Peter Malone represents SIGNIS and was one of our judges for the 3rd and 4th Insight Film Festivals. A full list of Peter’s reviews can be found on the SIGNIS website.
Beyond the Hills (original title: Dupa Dealuri)
Cast includes: Comina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriutu: IMDb
Beyond the Hills: Malone Zone review
Christian Mungiu has become one of Romania’s most celebrated directors. He won the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007 for his powerful film on abortion: 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. He made an intriguing collection of Romanian short stories in 2009, Tales from the Golden Age. In 2012, Beyond the Hills won the prize for best screenplay and the best actress award, shared by the two stars: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, who had both never made a film before.
Beyond the Hills is based on actual events that occurred in 2005. In a Romanian Orthodox monastery in Moldavia, in the eastern part of Romania, a young woman died during an exorcism ritual. The police investigated and found those taking part guilty of the woman’s death. This film opens up the case, highlighting the condition of the woman who died (her mental and emotional states), focusing on the role of the priest in charge who decided on the exorcism and on the nuns who assisted.
Mungiu has a powerful visual style. Many sequences are like filmed action on a stage, but the impact is not theatrical in a narrow sense. Rather, the focus of the audience on the scene, the characters and the action in medium close-up and long takes, means that the sense of realism is heightened. We, the audience, are right there, observing the accumulation of realistic detail, and being drawn into the action. This may account for the length of the film at over 2 hours 30 minutes, but for most audiences its duration will not matter much because of the intense and real experience that the movie evokes.
While the film begins at a crowded railway station and includes scenes of visits to the local hospital, most of the action is set in the remote monastery, where water comes from a well, where there is no electricity. The devout priest in charge (Papa), who may be something of a rebel against the diocese, manages a functioning community where the religious superior (Mama) is a practical and motherly nun. There are several sisters and associates and ‘the faithful’ sometimes come for prayer. Life is basic, but there is a good spirit in the group: The community has an outreach to an orphanage in the town.
When Alina comes back from Germany to see her friend Voiticha who has entered the community, she makes a move to stay on but is mentally disturbed due to her relationship with Voiticha (with lesbian undertones), her loneliness in Germany and her lack of faith. Alina is made to confess and attend prayer, but this leads to breakdown and seizures that the doctors cannot treat. This deterioration in her health leads to further disturbance that the priest interprets as diabolical possession, so he performs rituals while Alina fasts. This has a profound effect on Voiticha, her sense of vocation and prayer.
Clearly, the priest and the community are out of their depth, relying as they do on their sense of tradition to inform practical ways of dealing with their problems. The community do not recognise the nature of the mental issues involved, thinking that they are doing the right thing – they have good intentions, but limited experience. The medical response is particularly harsh, but the police are far more sympathetic.
Romanians have said that the film needs to be viewed in the cultural context of the remote location, the traditions of the Church (the priest acts in an “unecumenical” way when he says that a non-Orthodox person entering the community deserves damnation), the isolation of inaccessible religious groups from mainstream thinking, and such communities’ limited experience of illness and mental health issues.
The film is a powerful experience: it ends with a striking moment as a truck drives past a police car on a wet morning! Some of the subtitles are too American for my taste in their use of colloquial phrases for a film that conjures a solemn atmosphere and tone, examples being ‘What’s up?’ and ‘That’s tough!’ The use of the word ‘read’ instead of ‘perform the ritual’ also seems odd.
Product links: Beyond the Hills (UK only)
Film: Cristian Mungui, Beyond the Hills DVD (2013), Comina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriutu
Film: Cristian Mungui, Tales From The Golden Age DVD (2009), Vlad Ivanov, Ion Sapdaru, Diana Cavallioti, Radu Iacoban, Tania Popa
Film: Cristian Mungui, 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days DVD (2007), Anamaria Marinca, Laura Vasiliu, Vlad Ivanov
Book (Romanian edition) Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Spovedanie la Tanacu [Deadly Confession] (2012) Editura Polirom, Kindle
Book (Romanian edition) Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Cartea Judecatorilor [The Book of the Judges] (2013) Editura Polirom, Kindle
Note: These links lead to product pages at Amazon.co.uk. Six per cent of any sales made via these links is paid to the Insight Film Festival.
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