The Movie Waffler New Release Review - Beyond the Hills | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - Beyond the Hills

Directed by: Christian Mungiu
Starring: Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta

The arrival of a non-believer causes turmoil in an Orthodox Romanian convent.

Alina (Flutur) and Voichita (Stratan) are two young women who have been friends (and, it's implied, lovers) since their time growing up in one of Romania's notorious orphanages. Upon leaving the orphanage, Alina emigrates to Germany while Voichita joins a convent run by a priest (Andriuta), known to his followers as 'Daddy'. Finding their separation unbearable, Alina arrives at the convent, planning to take Voichita with her to work on a German cruise ship. Voichita resists, claiming God's love is now more important to her than Alina's. Believing her friend has been brainwashed by 'Daddy', Alina determines to disrupt life at the convent but, when she suffers some form of an attack, for which the local hospital can provide no explanation, the sisters at the convent begin to believe she is possessed by the devil.
Many critics have labelled Romanian director Mungiu's latest as a cheap shot at religion. Some have compared it to William Friedkin's 'The Exorcist'. I would have to disagree with both these conclusions. Far from attacking religion, Mungiu's film exposes the cruelties of an uncaring state which drives people to religion in search of comfort. The most sympathetic characters in the picture are the members of the convent. They may have a despicable worldview but it's one they genuinely believe in. It would have been easy to paint 'Daddy' as an evil Svengali figure but Mungiu resists the temptation for such a cliche. Despite Alina's suspicions, there's no evidence that the priest is taking advantage of the females in his care. In contrast, the secular authority figures are portrayed as cold and apathetic. When Alina is first brought to the hospital, the nurses moan that she would have been better taken care of at the convent. States who wish to take shortcuts love religious institutions as it means they can pass the weak and vulnerable of society in their direction. When my country, Ireland, won independence from Britain, the same thing happened. The government was broke but the church was loaded and so the task of running the country's education, health and care industries were passed to the church. The horror stories are still emerging to this day. We all know people who condemn the church yet are happy to avail of its services when they wish to hold a marriage or a funeral. These are the people Mungiu is attacking: the hypocrites who moan about religion but are happy to use it when it suits their needs.
The film is based on a real-life event, which makes comparisons to 'The Exorcist' ridiculous. It's clear that Alina is not suffering any form of possession. The hospital claims ignorance about her affliction because they simply want her off their hands. Due to their way of thinking, the members of the convent automatically see something they can't explain as the work of God or, in this case, the devil. If a comparison can be made to any successful mid-seventies film it's Milos Forman's 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest'. Like Jack Nicholson's McMurphy in that film, Alina enters an institution with plans of disruption but quickly learns the hard way that the house always wins.
With stunning performances across its cast and brilliant direction from Mungiu, 'Beyond the Hills' is a must-see for believers and skeptics alike.