(Beyond the Hills)
dir. Cristian Mungiu (2012)
Two young women, who grew up in the same orphanage, are reunited at one’s home monastery but discover that their relationship is being torn by their conflicting desires and attachments. Their situation becomes chaotic when the monastery’s nuns and priest try to help the two friends.
In case you aren’t already acquainted with this filmmaker’s style (director of ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days’), Mungiu seems to really like stories about characters caught in a desperate act, pushed into a corner by old societal pressures and failing institutions. This film examines the failures of both church and state, and, also, the divide between them as a parallel to Voichita and Alina’s strained relationship.
The awkward tension between Voichita’s new identity as nun and past life is noticed by Alina when she fails to communicate what she really wants and seems to simply echo what she has been taught at the monastery. The nuns misunderstand Alina and her acts of anguish and desperation. Only Alina, who also stands out in wardrobe, is expressing herself honestly and bluntly to the point that it shocks the other characters. The failures in expression and understanding are purposeful in this brilliant screenplay.
I love Mungiu’s directing and the precise cinematography of this film. The only real ‘cues’ to what a character is thinking is the camera angle and focus, such as when Voichita watches the priest and nuns pray over Alina and she stands out as observer (above).
The story ends in a confusion of judgment, I thought. There is no ‘good’ character, everyone is guilty of something connected to the ending, but no one is an antagonist, either.
I’ll close with a quote from Mungiu from an interview in FilmComment: “My responsibility is to present the situation and [let] the audience interpret it. I don’t think cinema should pre-interpret things for people. It is important that the story triggers the audience’s desire to meditate upon values and on their own position on the situation I have presented. Ideally, this is what cinema should be about.”