by Pouya G. Asadi
Filmmaker and auteur Cristian Mungiu is perhaps the best thing to ever come out of Romania. Not only does he teach us the plethora of problems in his country, he manages to universally relate them with the rest of the world. Mungiu brings his latest film, Beyond the Hills, to the 48th Chicago International Film Festival.
Beyond the Hills is a cerebral and photographic study of faith on Earth. Specifically the faith found in an isolated Orthodox convent in the harsh present-day winter of Romania. We are brought into the lives of two orphans now in their mid-20′s, Voichita and Alina. Voichita has found commune in rural Romania, with a group of nuns and their priest, whom they call “Papa.” Alina has come from their orphanage to convince Voichita, her loving friend, to reunite and leave this seemingly cult of an Orthodox country church. The love and friendship between the two girls is captured in every shot, with every look and gesture made, let alone the dialogue between them. This friendship, the bond they formed since childhood, is portrayed to the audience from the opening sequence to the final shot of the film. There is an electricity present through the intensive yet unobtrusive framing of the camera on these nuns and their “master,” the priest.
Beyond the Hills won Best Screenplay this year at Cannes 2012 with the additional praise towards two Best Actress awards for Cosmina Stratan (Voichita) and Cristina Flutur (Alina). This is the type of film that should be shown in film schools, a real learning experience for all parts of the cinematic spectrum.