Nun crazy – Beyond The Hills review

Beyond The Hills – Starring Cristina Flutur, Cosmina Stratan, and Valeriu Andriuta. Directed by Cristian Mungiu. By Richard Haridy.

Beyond The Hills played the Melbourne International Film Festival. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

Beyond The Hills is Cristian Mungiu‘s first feature since winning the Palme d’Or in 2007 with his harrowing drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. If Mungiu’s last was notable for bringing this new wave of naturalistic Romanian cinema into a wider view, then his latest cements him as one of the most singularly important film-makers in Europe today. Beyond The Hills is a frighteningly precise, gut-wrenching piece of cinema that shows a degree of formal assuredness that left me genuinely awestruck.

After working in Germany for an unspecified time, Alina (Cristina Flutur) returns home to visit Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), who is now a nun living in an isolated monastery. The two women, having grown up together in an orphanage, are long-time friends, and Alina is under the impression their reunion will simply pick up from where they last left off. But Voichita is a different person, her heart now residing with God. Alina is clearly emotionally unstable and as Voichita constantly withdraws from her affections, Alina’s increasingly erratic behaviour is interpreted by the nuns as potentially of demonic origins.

Mungiu keeps the true nature of the women’s relationship satisfyingly ambiguous although it seems reasonably clear they were at some point in time more than just friends. Never being too overt with its message, Beyond The Hills simultaneously critiques the irrational and supernatural aspects of religious belief and also the lackadaisical acceptance of modern society to allow and nurture these subcultures. There is a hopeless cloud hovering over proceedings, and as it reaches its hysterical and unsettling crescendo the sense of inevitability is rife.

Winning awards this year at Cannes for its two female leads and screenplay, Beyond The Hills is a truly magnificent effort that crawls under your skin in an awe-inspiringly accomplished fashion. Running at 150 minutes, this is not for the easily bored or the faint of heart. Mungiu takes his time and even the masterfully obtuse ending will not land for everyone. Beyond The Hills demands attention, and those who appreciate the art-form should make this vital viewing. It is one of the best of 2012.

4.5/5

Beyond The Hills played the Melbourne International Film Festival. It does not yet have an Australian release date.

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