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Beyond The Hills (Dupa Dealuri)

Written and directed by Christian Mungiu

By Bill Goodykoontz The Arizona Republic, Thu Apr 4, 2013 Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars There is an engrossing scene in Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” in which a priest and a police officer argue in a church about what role faith has played in a tragedy. The priest argues that faith could not be the culprit. The officer argues that faith, blind faith, with no regard for reason, is exactly the problem. What makes the scene so fascinating is that Mungiu focuses his camera neither on the priest nor the officer. Instead, we see Volchita (Cosmina Stratan), a young woman, in sharp focus, among a group of nuns. She says nothing, but instead stands at a short distance between the men, paralyzed by their debate. It is the perfect metaphor for the film, in which faith and reason struggle for bodies and souls, and Volchita and her friend Alina (Cristina Flutur) are often at the center of the storm. It is a haunting movie, dealing with superstitions, possession, even exorcism, one in which Mungiu poses no easy answers, because there are none to be found. The two girls are reunited at the beginning of the film. They grew up together in a Romanian orphanage, we learn, and were best friends, probably lovers, but have gone their separate ways. Volchita has found peace and happiness at a rural convent. Alina has been working in a bar in Germany and has come to the convent to retrieve her friend, having nowhere else to go. Imagine her surprise when Volchita isn’t so sure she wants to leave. Alina quickly deduces that Volchita has fallen under the spell of the priest (Valeriu Andriuta) who runs the convent. He is exceedingly devout, as are the women who live there, and his word is absolute. It gives the place an almost medieval feel; at times when a car drives past you’re jolted when you realize, oh yeah, this is set in the present. Volchita tries to persuade Alina to stay, to repent for her sinful life, and arranges for the priest, whom the nuns call “Papa,” to hear Alina’s confession. After that Alina takes ill. She thinks the place is a scam and that Volchita has, in fact, fallen in love with the priest. She dares question him, and others, even acts out violently. And in this little corner of Europe, that means one thing: She must be possessed. Although it may not be the first thing you would think of when presented with a clearly troubled young woman struggling with the impending loss of her friend and maybe more, Mungiu has slyly set the stage for this. We overhear people in the village talking about witchcraft and possession as if they were colds and flu. An exorcism is called for, it is decided. The results are not what anyone anticipated. The film is patient in its pacing (translation: slow), but beautifully shot in the cold of winter. Mungiu based his screenplay on non-fiction novels by Tatiana Niculescu. What’s amazing is how, unlike the priest and the police officer, he assigns no blame. This is not an anti-religious polemic, though it easily could have gone that way. Instead it is a much more thoughtful film and in some ways more troubling. No one is trying to do the wrong thing here, but, as with most things in life, it becomes increasingly hard to know what the right thing might be. Official Trailer

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Directed by: 
Cristian Mungiu
Running Time: 
Romanian with English Subtitles
Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta.
Screenplay by: 
Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Cristian Mungiu

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