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Flicks - Beyond the Hills
Beyond the Hills 13/04/25 3:12
Flicks - Beyond the Hills
The love of two young women is divided by the claims of religion, in this honest and compassionate Romanian film. Beyond the Hills, the latest film from Romanian director Christian Mungiu, is an example of the kind of patient, honest, incisive filmmaking that renews my faith in cinema. The story unfolds slowly until, almost without us being fully aware of it, we are entangled in its questions, which extend far beyond any superficial answers that a lesser film may have attempted to offer.
A young woman named Voichita, played by Cosmina Stratan, welcomes her closest friend Alina, played by Cristina Flutur, to her home in a simple Orthodox monastery in the Romanian countryside. They grew up, as we discover, in the same orphanage, where their relationship was clearly more than a friendship, and now Alina has returned from working in Germany to see her friend. Her attachment to the quiet, kindly Voichita is needy and childlike—she wants her to come away with her to Germany where they can live together and take jobs as guest workers on a cruise ship. But Voichita has changed. She is devoted to the head priest of the monastery, whom they call Papa, and to a life of prayer and service. She hopes that Alina can stay with her and give her life to God as she has done, and Alina does give it a try—but only, as it turns out, in order to be with her friend. She does not want to be a nun, she only wants Voichita.
This headstrong, passion, and confused outsider inevitably becomes a disruption to the carefully measured routine of the monastery. Papa and his wife, the head nun, struggle with what to do with Alina, and when she threatens suicide they take her to the hospital. But the overworked and understaffed facility can think of nothing else to do after the crisis passes but return her to the care of the monastery. Voichita, unwilling to renounce her love for her childhood companion, keeps pleading for Alina to be given another chance, and it all comes to a head in a crisis in which nobody comes off well.
Mungiu's treatment of the story, based on actual events that occurred in 2005, is like that of the most careful and broad-minded novelist. He does not treat the Orthodox Church with derision; the film does not take the stance of a social critic—everything is from the point of view of flawed, imperfect but worthwhile individuals, and thereby the tensions and implications of the action are made real for us. Both of the main actresses are newcomers, and their performances are raw and immediate—Flutur, in particular, excels as Alina, trapped not only in this monastery but in a prison of her own demands on life. As a shadow perceived behind the action we feel the experience of the orphanage, and the general feeling of being unmoored as a society, lost and disconnected. Voichita's religious devotion is her way of trying to heal that, and unfortunately it involves a degree of superstition and backwardness. Yet what does the secular world offer instead? More education perhaps, but also a fear-driven survival-based existence with little room for higher things.
Beyond the Hills, as indicated by its title, hints at something beyond all this, but in a sense only through absence can we glimpse what these struggling souls are missing. The wonderful film has the mythic power of a folktale and the clear-eyed vision of a tragedy.