‘Beyond The Hills’ is a Romanian drama based on the lasting friendship of two girls who grew up in the same orphanage. The film has bagged the 'Best Actress' and the 'Best Screenplay' award at the Cannes Film Festival, 2012. It was screened at the 14th Mumbai Film Festival as a part of the 'World Cinema' section.
With such brave storytelling by writer-director Cristian Mungiu, ‘Beyond The Hills’ raises important issues about religious fundamentalism and the orthodoxy of the leaders. It is certainly a compelling watch and does make you reflect about the state of the times we live in.
Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) grew up in the same orphanage and have been friends for the longest time. While Voichita moves on to become a nun at an orthodox convent, Alina stays with her foster parents and eventually moves to Germany to work as a waitress in a bar. It is when Alina visits Voichita at her monastery that problems start brewing. The Father and the Mother at the church are initially weary of having a non-believer and a sinner stay at their holy abode. However, they give in assuming that it won't be for long. Alina, meanwhile, longs for Voichita to come and stay with her in Germany. Voichita, who has given up the worldly ways, does not wish to change her path. Alina has nowhere else to stay. Her foster parents won't take her back neither will the orphanage. She is counting on Voichita to accompany her to Germany and start living with her. Her loneliness gets her to start doing strange things, such as get fits, harm herself etc. She is also frustrated owing to the fact that she is been made to give confessions and prove her 'sanctity' in order to stay in the monastery. Although she does believe in a higher power, it is the ways of the Father that annoy her to no end.
Her extreme behaviour gives rise to a lot of chaos within the place. The Father, who has never been too fond of Alina, takes it upon himself to extract the evil spirit out of her body. So as they start with the painstaking exorcism rituals, doubts start appearing in Voichita's head. The film raises so many important issues. Be it friendship, greed, love, belonging, religion, conservationism, humanity etc., the film strikes a chord on all the aforementioned counts.
The performances of the two girls are absolutely fantastic. There is so much control in their acts. At no point, does their extreme behaviour in the film starts looking theatrical. Even the Father, played by Valeriu Andriuta, is not the quintessential antagonist. Yes, his actions are in no way compassionate, but his character isn't a murderer. It's his ideology that really puts him on the firing line. The film is full of such contradicting characters. It does make you ponder over your own religious beliefs. There's a scene at the end of the film where a police car's windshield has dirty puddle water splashed all over it owing to a passing truck. Watch that scene carefully at the end. You will find a deeper meaning in the film.
Albeit ‘Beyond The Hills’ is a very good film, it may not be everyone's cup of tea. A bit long at 2 and half hours, the film takes its time to grow on you. However, it is brave attempt by the filmmaker and that should be lauded.