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Film Review: Beyond the Hills

1Beyond the Hills

Written, produced and directed by Cristian Mungiu
Director of photography by Oleg Mutu
Editing by Mircea Olteanu
Distribution by Sundance Selects
In Romanian, with English subtitles.
Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
Cast: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta, Dana Tapalaga, Catalina Harabagiu and Gina Tandura

Stop me if you heard this one before – It was a bright and windy time in Moldavia where we lay our scene. Two girls from a small Romanian orphanage who are lifelong friends and whom have spent several years apart, reunite in (where else) a monastery. One girl, Alina has come to retrieve her friend Voichita and return with her back to Germany where work is waiting for the girls, only to find that her friend’s conviction to the Orthodox convent has grown strong enough to seek personal solace in a life devoted to the church. Taking Voichita’s new found charge as unacceptable, while also viewing the teachings and lifestyle of the institution’s leader as hypocrisy, Alina refuses to leave the convent until she has her friend in tow. The decision not to leave her partner behind begins to slowly draw Alina into fits of frustration, anger and ultimate jealousy which the convent’s priest chalks up to the Devil’s possession. As time passes and Alina’s personal demons begin to grow, a battle ensues  leading ultimately to what else… an exorcism.  Yep, just your average run-of-the-mill, made-for-tv drama, right?

You certainly couldn’t make this stuff and in fact, it isn’t.

Winner of the 2012 Cannes Screenplay award, Beyond the Hills is a story crafted from actual events surrounding a botched exorcism which took place in 2005 from a Moldavian monastery. While the exorcism topic can sound appealing, at only 150-minutes Hills can seem quite daunting with a silent approach of non-existent underscore or the deliberate snails-pacing; Beyond the Hills can seem like a test of longevity and sustainability and personal patience.

In a modern era where movies contain ear-piercing explosions and quick cuts at 48 frames per second, Beyond the Hills sets itself up for being the new film on the block that people will feel earns them a cinephile merit badge for commitment – even if viewed only once. But by experiencing the entirely arduous film in its entirety, one soon realizes that director Cristian Mungiu has brought the realism of the setting straight to the viewer’s seat.


Taking up the cinematography for Beyond the Hills is Oleg Mutu. Known as the premiere shooter of the current Romanian New Wave in cinema, Mutu has outwardly presented Hills as a story with simple shots and compositions. But once viewers dig deeper into the work presented, audiences will soon find a graceful and rigorous hand of perfectionism. As joint acting winners from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, leads Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan well earn their badges early on in Beyond the Hills. Both roles and performances given are equally matched and it would be terribly difficult, if not possibly impossible, to have one without the other. The performances are simply jaw dropping and impeccable.

While saying that Beyond the Hills is a thriller will be hard to justify with today’s audiences, but the slow burn effect on this story (just as in 2012’s Once Upon in Anatolia) will pay off big if audiences give in to its overall momentum.  At  2 1/2 hours, Hills isn’t just a strict and cold telling of a a true story which seems so far fetch to be true – its a conversation starter and one of the year’s most powerful films.

Fresh Roasted Rating: A

Matt Miles, Contributing Writer
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

Beyond the HIlls opens in Chicago, exclusively at Century Landmark Cinema (2828 N. Clark)
Other notable performances:

* Valeriu Andriuta as the compassionate priest with staunch and guarded ideals.

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