Beyond the Hills | Movie review
The director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days returns with a more ambiguous slow burn.
At a train station somewhere in Romania, two young women embrace. One of them sobs uncontrollably, overtaken with emotion. The other, wary of prying eyes, gently quiets her. In this uneasy reunion—the opening encounter of Cristian Mungiu’s suffocatingly intense Beyond the Hills—we catch our first glimpse of a relationship in transition. These women grew up at an orphanage; it’s clearly suggested they were more than just friends. Alina (Cristina Flutur), the one who wept, wants to make good on an old plan to run off together to Germany. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), her cherished childhood companion, has other ideas: She’s given her life to God—or, at least, to the occupants of a remote Orthodox convent. Here, in this holy place of many rules and few modern amenities, a battle of wills takes shape. Alina’s not leaving without a fight—a stance that leads, with terrible inevitability, to a last-act crucible.
In its masterful long takes and tense depiction of female friendship under duress, Beyond the Hills can be seen as a spiritual cousin to Mungiu’s Palme-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. But that was a blunter movie—a harrowing art thriller with a pointed political agenda. There’s much more ambiguity in the slow simmer of Hills. Though plainly critical of dogmatic hypocrisy, Mungiu refuses to apply an absolute moral judgment to his ripped-from-the-headlines material. Set aside the film’s grand dichotomies—rural versus urban, devout versus secular, old world versus new world—and you’re left with the near-universal story of what happens when someone from your past pops in to complicate your present. That conflict is made palpable by the leads; both are terrific, though it’s Flutur—summoning a tempest of desperation and blinding rage—who affords this mysterious, gripping parable its wealth of feeling.