The Romanian film Beyond the Hills (Dupa dealuri) is a unique slice of realism that depicts the tragic culture clash between modern-day Eastern Europe and the decidedly medieval world of the Orthodox Church.
Voichiţa (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur) are two young women who have forged an intense and complicated bond since meeting in an orphanage as little girls. When Alina temporally leaves Romania to find work abroad, Voichiţa decides to join a rural convent. But when a determined Alina returns for Voichiţa, she can’t accept that her friend is unwilling to hit the road – and she really can’t accept the authority of an equally-stubborn Orthodox priest (Valeriu Andriuţă).
Beyond the Hills is directed by Romanian New Wave-darling Cristian Mungiu, who won the Palme d’Or at Cannes for the illegal abortion drama 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days in 2007. Mungiu’s script, which earned him the Best Screenplay award at Cannes last year, is based on two non-fiction works by Romanian journalist and author Tatiana Niculescu Bran – and is specifically based on a real 2005 scandal involving a monastery in Moldavia.
Actress Cristina Flutur provides an astounding and subtle performance as the troubled pal who refuses to allow another institution to corrupt and abuse her or her only true ally in the world.
Mungiu disorients the audience at times as he juxtaposes the antiquated life at the convent with the modern hustle and bustle of Bucharest. And he does such a masterful job of settling viewers into the convent’s austere surroundings and humble characters that when the tension is ratcheted up in the third act, you can’t help but grip your arm rests as firmly as a priest grips his crucifix during an exorcism.