21 October 2012

Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu, 2012, Romania)

It's so funny how I've been putting off writing about this movie because it's so hard for me to discuss things that I like. Silly me. This is definitely one of my favorite films of the festival. It's from the director of 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. On the surface, this movie couldn't seem much more different, but it actually has a lot in common. As in the earlier film, Mungiu creates here an unsettling atmosphere that permeates the entire film, and really both films are about the ways in which the state has failed its people and the search for an understanding of modern Romanian identity. They're also both made beautifully. There is a sort of grace in this film which I don't know how to explain.

This film is based on a non fiction novel based on events that took place in 2005 in a rural monastary in northeastern Romania. I'm fascinated by how divergent the various accounts of the real life events have been.  It's about two friends who grew up in a small town orphanage where they were subject to all kinds of abuse and exploitation. One of the girls has gone to work in Germany as a waitress, perhaps, and the other has entered a very traditional monastary located out in the hills outside the town they grew up in. It's traditional in that it has no electricity or running water, not in the sense that it's old. I read a great article about how all these churches and monastaries are popping up all over Romania since the Iron Curtain fell and the crisis is that there aren't enough qualified clergy to run all these places. The story behind this particular monastary is an interesting enough story for its own film.

Anyway, the girl who has been working in Germany, Voichita, comes back to Romania to get her diploma so she can get a new job and perhaps stay in Germany indefinitely. She seems to believe that her friend, Alina, will leave the monastary and come with her, but Alina doesn't seem to understand it this way. Voichita stays with her friend in the monastary and they have plans to leave, but some sort of mental illness or something seems to get in the way, which naturally leads to an exorcism.

In the accounts that I've read online, either the character upon which Voichita was based was schizophrenic, an ordinary modern girl with no history of mental illness, or a convert who joined the order and begged for Satan to be driven from her body. In real life, the priest was only 31 years old. A former soccer player who had been recruited to run a monastary after studying theology in a community college after a year. I guess there had been monks there, but they all left when all these nuns showed up.

I found the film fascinating. I really enjoyed reading about the actual events after I saw the film. I would love to read the novel the film is based upon, but it doesn't seem to be available in English, at least in the USA.

It's a beautifully shot film and everything about it was good, in my opinion. But the audience I saw it with seemed just as divided as the reviews I've read. The guy two people down from me said as the credits began to roll that it was beautiful. A moment later, as people began filing out this lady kind of passed over us saying how horrible it was. After they both left the lady who had been talking to me earlier said she thought it was pretty but she didn't know what it was supposed to be about. I suggested that it was interesting because it dramatized the tensions between the old world and the modern world. I also said it was interesting how many of Romania's social problems contributed to this situation. You have the notorious Romanian orphanages, which in this case didn't protect the children from a notorious pedophile filmmaker, and it's hard not to see that the situation would have been avoided if Romania's healthcare system hadn't been so overburdened and inaccessible. It seems like the societies of the world are returning to their natural states, in which the state is only there once they've failed long enough to have somebody at which to point a finger.

No comments:

Post a Comment