For the News-Democrat
What It's About
Two girls who bonded in an orphanage took different paths when they left -- one to a remote monastery in Romania (Voichita), and one to Germany (Alina).
Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) reunite as young adults -- Alina is troubled and restless, Voichita is pious, resigned to a secluded life of prayer and choirs. Alina wants Viochita to leave this austere setting ruled with an iron hand by an Eastern Orthodox priest they all call Papa (Valeriu Andruita), but she changes her mind. While visiting, short-tempered and clingy Alina descends into fits, erratic behavior and desperation.
The nuns think she's paying for sins of the past -- but the girl's life has been one of loneliness, abandonment, and betrayal.
She's cast out by the priest, who is suspect of her virtue while she questions his motives and methods. The adult leaders decide she must be possessed by the devil, and arrange an exorcism. However, this is not a horror movie -- rather a social commentary on dogma, liberty and communism.
Once discovered, legal and medical personnel aren't as forgiving of the abuse -- emotional, physical -- delivered by the religious authorities.
Newcomers Flutur and Stratan shared Best Actress honors at the Cannes Film Festival. They are put through an emotional wringer, and will break your heart. Andriuta, as the deceptively cruel pastor, is haunting.
The nuns are hard to distinguish in their habits, but eventually you figure out who is who. In typical European fashion, everyone's natural and no-frills.
The situation is intriguing, and supposedly based on a true story in Moldova in 2005. The screenplay was also honored by Cannes. This is the kind of powerful tale that doesn't reveal everything as it goes along, so you will mull over it for days.
Reminiscent of a time when lobotomy was deemed a solution to mental illiness, therefore exorcism for free-thinkers seems logical, "Beyond the Hills" conjures up the consequences of whistle-blowing on untouchable authority figures.
What Doesn't Work
As sometimes with foreign films, things get lost in translation. Numerous dense subtitles -- very dialogue-heavy film -- are hard to read, particularly over white surfaces.
Because of this problem, and the fact that it unfolds at a glacier pace, the film isn't as engaging as you would expect.
The film's length is troublesome -- it seems padded with unnecessary scenes of mundane life, over and over again. At one point, it appeared to be the film that would never end -- and when it does, it's so abrupt that it's jarring and upsetting.
2 1/2 stars out of 4
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Valeriu Andriuta, Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur
Rated: Non-rated, Romanian with English subtitles