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‘Beyond the Hills’: Love, faith collide in Romanian monastery
A movie review of “Beyond the Hills,” a Romanian drama about a young nun (Cosmina Stratan) living in a monastery and her childhood friend (Cristina Flutur), who wants to take her away.
San Francisco Chronicle
‘Beyond the Hills,’ with Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta. Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. 150 minutes. Not rated. In Romanian, with English subtitles. Seven Gables.
Although it’s a challenge to watch “Beyond the Hills,” a long and troubling Romanian drama, the film offers rewards for the patient viewer as it examines conflicting visions of love played out in a remote, faith-based community.
The setting is a monastery in the bare Romanian countryside, where Orthodox nuns live simple lives of worship and hard work under the direction of a priest and his wife. As the film opens, one of the younger nuns, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), is at the train station to meet a friend, Alina (Cristina Flutur), who has been living in Germany.
They grew up together at an orphanage where the strong-willed Alina functioned as Voichita’s protector. Clearly they were in love. They may have had a physical relationship, though the film leaves the point uncertain. Alina has come to take her gentler friend away — there’s talk of work on a cruise ship.
Voichita still cherishes Alina but she loves God sincerely and deeply and has found a home in the monastery, which grieves the clearly troubled Alina and brings out the worst in her. She becomes a disruptive force in this tiny, rule-bound community, given to occasionally violent outbursts demonstrating her rage against those she sees as having, in a sense, seduced her beloved.
When Alina has a major breakdown, an exorcism is begun, which the film details, along with its disastrous results.
Writer-director Cristian Mungiu (who made the very fine “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days”) based this film on real-life events, but he isn’t interested in sensationalism or melodrama. Although Alina is a disturbed individual, the filmmaker deeply sympathizes with her need for love.