Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Beyond the Hills (opening today in limited release) is a Romanian film from award-winning director Cristian Mungiu. A film that culminates with a brutal exorcism sounds like the machinations of a horror movie, and although there are some horrifying developments within it, Beyond the Hills is more of a slow-moving yet effective drama about life, love and God.
Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur) grew up as friends in the same orphanage, but entering into young adulthood, the two women became lovers. When we meet them, they are just reuniting in Romania at a train station. Their initial encounter says a lot about how they've grown, with Alina offering an open embrace and Voichita recoiling, afraid that "people are looking."
Turns out that Voichita is part of an Orthodox convent now, a conservatively stern place where a priest referred to by all as "Papa" rules the roost. Alina urges Voichita to run away and leave this new life and Voichita finds herself torn.
Like a fly in the proverbial ointment, Alina becomes a project for the holy devoted. As she is determined to convince her friend to leave, they are equally determined to cleanse Alina of her sins. It escalates in horrific ways, as Papa eventually calls for an exorcism to finally "free" Alina.
At two-and-a-half hours long, this is a patient movie that requires a lot of faith from the viewer. Those who have seen the magnificent 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days - Mungiu's 2007 film - will probably stay with the film hoping that Mungiu will deliver the emotional goods. He does. The final act is a gripping, intensely built sequence that will leave you stunned. Others though, may find the pace of the film's first two hours grueling. This is not the sort of movie that you want to have on in the background. Invest in it though and it will be worth your time.
It ultimately shows love and faith from opposing viewpoints, mixing them together to create a powerful clash of ideals. The same story told by someone else might come across as any other "exorcism" movie. But in the hands of Mungiu, he uses this controversial act as a vehicle to tell a human story and to question just what it means to love, God, humans or otherwise.
Run Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes, Not Rated
Starring: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta
Written and Directed by Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Tales from the Golden Age)
Opens locally on Friday, April 5, 2013.
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