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Beyond the Hills by Cristian Mungiu

February 14, 2013

Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) were childhood friends – they grew up in the same Romanian orphanage – now Voichita lives still in Romania, in a convent where she is a sort of nun, Alina has just returned from Germany to visit and convince Voichita to go to Western Europe with her to work on a cruise ship. Beyond the Hills is the third feature by Cristian Mungiu – not counting the collective effort of Tales from the Golden Age – and the second in a row with a screenplay based on a true story and a plot centered around two girls in distress, while 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days was set in Ceausescu’s Romania, Beyond the Hills is set in our time and days, the change of era has not changed the hardships Mungiu’s characters have to face. The playful and humorous tone à la Pintilie of Occident – Mungiu’s debut feature – seems gone, but while Mungiu’s second film revealed a director willing to challenge the success of his debut, Beyond the Hills sees Mungiu to take a plunge into the most arduous manners he had started practicing with 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Long takes rule Mungiu’s cinema now and Oleg Mutu – his career-long cinematographer – is the new Prince of Darkness: does ambitious have to rhyme with ponderous?

4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days managed to be the powerful portrait of an uneasy female friendship during the duresses of Communism, the story and the characters were rich enough to ignore if they were inspired or not by true events – they emanated sparkles of truth and meaning, what happens in Beyond the Hills is more absurd than tragic and it verges on the unbelievable, but the characters and the facts remain vague and irrelevant, in a way I have had with this film the same problem many viewers have had with Zobel’s Compliance – a minimalistic cinematic approach would have fortified this feeble story, Mungiu’s display of filmmaking prowess looks like a frigate maneuvering in bucket of rain, this isn’t a film about renewed Christianity in Eastern Europe, it is not even about repressed homosexual love, it’s just a small story about the consequences of delegating your conscience to the whims of a leader, I guess this heavyweight film and its featherweight subject will crash even the most admiring fan of Cristian Mungiu.

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