Beyond the Hills is a real time film with no mercy. It is an experience so bleak and, although the setting is very irrelevant, feels so close.
The film is about two young women who grew up together in an orphanage. They have a strong bond. One (Voichita) finds refuge in a small convent in Romania, the other (Alina) has been working in Germany, and wants her friend leave with her now.
The story is a chain of institutions not functioning: society, state, religion.
The majority of the western critics may only focus on the religion. But I think people who live to the east side of Europe, including Turkey, may tend to grasp more aspects of the film. Cristian Mungiu, who shot the award-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is a stark observer of all institutions. The rotten state mechanism intervenes life only with cruel ineptness. Medicine as an institution is only there to accuse people, but it never functions. The decoration of the hospital, the attitude of the doctors, the ineptness of medicinal institute is all too familiar to the citizens of Turkish Republic, a country in many ways have resembled a post socialist republic (only without knowing it) for decades.
Religion’s naive, mindless, and finally inhuman solutions to the lack of any hope end up in catastrope.
Cristian Mungiu is a very strong director.
He tells a story, yes in a slow pace, sometimes too slow, but in a pace that you feel like you have been there in a disturbing dream. He shows despair, helplessness, sadness, and cruelty in a very realistic way, he refuses to give us any escape through melodrama. This is a story which, in a very natural way, says that we are not more developed than we were in the middle ages. And it doesn’t say that about only religion. The state, the orphanage, the family, the working life… for the poor, everything and everything about our age is nothing far from primitive.
Mungiu also achieves allowing the viewer to switch between his two main characters. I could look through the eyes of both Voichita and Alina at turns. The ennui, need, reason, madness and rage of Alina, the acceptance, abysmal hopelessness and forced dishonesty of Voichita.
My heart goes out for the three children: Voichita, Alina, and her brother Ionut. This is such a sad story. Alina is dead. Now, what does life has to offer for Voichita and Ionut? Ionut grew up in a shitty orphanage, works at a shitty job. Ionut Ghinea and Mungiu tore my heart with this subtle character. Is Ionut witless? Does he need wit at all? He has compassion for her sister, but emotional reactions don’t belong to the world he was born into. He is at the hospital and does not approach the sister. That scene was heartbreaking: He is such a nobody. He can’t even think of getting across that altar of hospital room and console her sister. And even being a semi-slave in the convent seemed like a better life for him which is not possible anymore.
This film is a bit like a Dostoyevsky novel. It depicts the limited number of choices made by humans as allowed by the circumstances and their very nature.
When we first see the priest, he is the usual suspect. But the director twists the story in such a way that he really is, but again he is not. When you hear the story of a girl dead after being tied and starved for exorcism, you never care to look from a large perspective. But this film does. And it does this in an incredibly successful way.
Beyond the Hills has all the good elements of a film: a thought provoking story, a great, unpretentious cinematography, absorbing characters, and good acting. Especially the most trivial moments from the film stayed with me for a long long time. I admire Cristian Mungiu as a director. I will be looking forward for the new work from the Romanian director, who is already an international name.