BEYOND THE HILLS (Cert. 12A) comes from the
same Romanian film director, Cristian Mungiu, as 4 Months, 3
Weeks and 2 Days, that harrowing exploration of abortion amid
Ceausescu-era absurdities. This time, we witness, in a series of
long takes totalling 2½ hours, the consequences of different paths
taken by two young women.
The period is round about the start of the new millennium. Two
girls who grew up together in an orphanage have pledged lifelong
friendship, even though one, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), has joined
an Orthodox monastery, and the other, Alina (Cristina Flutur), has
taken up what she euphemistically describes as "waitressing" in
The former displays a serious commitment to her vow of
obedience, following the strict directions of Papa (Valeriu
Andruita), the priest heading the religious community. The latter
is a more capricious character, with signs of emotional
instability. When Alina is given permission to stay at the
monastery, the fur soon starts to fly. She finds her friend's
spiritual devotion well nigh incomprehensible, asserting that their
lifelong friendship has a higher claim on Voichita.
The community weighs in, suggesting that Alina will never find
peace unless there is evidence of repentance and a new life,
something she violently resists. While Mungiu strives to be
even-handed - hence the protracted scenes without the addition of
mood music or editing - one gets the feeling that the austerity of
Orthodox monasticism comes a poor second to the individualism,
liberty, and choices of Western society which Alina
If we remain, as I always do, for the closing credits, we learn
that the story is based on a real-life case, where someone like
Alina suf- fered a shocking fate inside a Romanian monastery. In
the time-honoured tradition of religious institutions, its
authorities tried to hush it up.
None of this plays well in a film where human love is depicted
as being regarded by ecclesiastical personnel as inferior and
subservient to alternative divine imperatives. The suggestion is
that repressed sexuality is disguised as Christian virtue, against
which the love (platonic or otherwise - we are never sure) that the
two girls have for each other cannot but fail.
This is not to leave the impression that we are watching a
simplistic polemic by Mungiu against religion. At its best, which
is most of the time, Beyond the Hills serves as an
examination of two different ways of perceiving reality, each of
which could learn a great deal from the other.
On release from today.