După dealuri – Beyond The Hills

După dealuri – Beyond The Hills

Postby CAP » Tue Aug 13, 2013 2:24 pm

Arthouse hit from 2012 by Romanian writer/director Cristian Mungiu, based on the novels Deadly Confession and Judges' Book by Tatiana Niculescu Bran (onetime BBC reporter), which in turn were based on an actual incident in which a young woman was killed undergoing a brutal exorcism in an obscure convent in eastern Romania, or maybe Moldova. Moldova is bad! Ask a Romanian. But sounds exciting, no? :( Why I chose this over The Bling Ring, remains a mystery, even to me. What was I expecting? Tragedy, I suppose. And it doesn’t disappoint on that score, but it did disappoint in most other ways. I haven’t seen any of the director’s other films and probably won’t now, although I did see an interview with him, where he made this film out to be a searing indictment of the Romanian Orthodox Church, which is not quite the case. I didn’t go to it for that reason either. I honestly don’t know why I went! What possessed me? Maybe the devil. Anyway the church doesn’t come out of it terribly well, but the story details a whole litany of sad and sordid failures throughout Romanian society – it just so happens this one crappy little convent is a bottom feeder and can’t really deal with a young woman who comes firstly as a guest of one of the nuns, and then proceeds to make more and more trouble.

What we really have here a systemic failure to deal with the young woman, Alina (Cristina Flutur) overwhelmed by her lesbian desire for her old orphanage lover, Voichiţa (Cosmina Stratan) and with no real vocation or life options. Nobody wants Alina, she is a rebellious, unlovable misfit. Voichiţa becomes a nun while Alina goes to Germany, seeking casual work. Peter Bradshaw in his Guardian review seems to think this alludes to prostitution and there is some vague link to a German man who worked at their orphanage and took ‘lots of photos’ of the girls and offers work in Germany. But it's not explicit or dwelt upon. In any case Alina returns after a year or so desperate to revive her relationship with Voichiţa, only to find her in a convent and renouncing sexuality. :cry: The film is actually more focused on Voichiţa, who is after all sort of cute. Alina... is not cute. But the general idea seems to be that it is through Voichiţa’s eyes that we see the church revealed to be anything but a welcome and protective family for those in need of one. It has its own agenda, built around financing, networking, recognition – and deceit. Surprise! Voichiţa has bought into a shabby pretence, where she calls the Mother Superior, ‘Mama’ and the head priest ‘Papa’ – they’re the family she never had, but their inflexibility in dealing with Alina starts to strain family ties.

Mungiu’s strong point is theatrical tableaux for the characters; very deliberate framing and stilted poses, so that key moments immediately register as stills. I get it, but in general I found the movie fairly pedestrian on a pictorial level. The lighting also looked primitive and old fashioned compared with the likes of Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Did you ever see any of this stuff? Well, I can only recommend these things. And his awesome DP - Gökhan Tiryaki – sounds like a delicious recipe doesn’t it? He is tasty. Anyway back in bleak, wintery Eastern Romania, first of all Alina is encouraged to leave the convent – if only to go back to foster parents who have replaced her with another orphan – so not much comfort there. Then, for some reason Alina decides she’ll renounce all her worldly possessions and sexual needs and join the convent like Voichiţa – get into this sham family thing, presumably. Frankly this doesn’t ring true for a very modern and independent gal like Alina – and the plausibility is not helped by the film devoting little time to her actions – mostly we’re lingering over the soulful eyes and pert profile of Voichiţa when learning what Alina does next, from some excitable halfwit sister nun. The movie never really gets close enough to Alina, considering she is the prime mover. I can’t fault Flutur’s performance – she just never gets enough lines or screen time. And so her increasingly desperate actions, confronting the head priest, scaring other nuns, trying to kill herself – they’re always a little distanced, a little mysterious, when they need to be a person running out of options, real time, up front and personal.

This is why the end just doesn’t work for me. Apart from the director’s hysterical treatment of the nuns gagging and lashing Alina to a makeshift cross which goes on way too long – especially with the jittery handheld camerawork on long lens – guys, get over it - we don’t really see it enough from Alina’s side – what is it she’s confronting, what matters most in her life. What happens of course is that a medieval exorcism is carried out over a number of days in the middle of winter, in a draughty church or unfinished chapel, in which Alina is denied food, dehydrated and ultimately dies of hypothermia, complicated by a chest infection. When they finally take her to hospital, only to be pronounced dead by a furious female doctor, the matter is promptly referred to the police and we see the gears of civil justice slowly grind into action, while the head priest predictably pleads his faith – “God told me to “- basically. The church in this sorry example certainly looks bad, but the fact is the hospital didn’t have enough beds to keep Alina in for observation when the convert first admitted her for suicidal behaviour – the orphanage can’t deal with someone at 25, her foster parents have moved on – she has no money or papers to go back to Germany. She dies because Romania is too fucked up frankly, too poor, too backward, too corrupt and intolerant. It is tragic, but the impact is diffuse and we can only infer Voichiţa’s change of mind, wearing one of Alina’s sweaters as she volunteers to be taken into custody as well. It’s to be a guilt trip. But one where she has plenty of company.

I give it 6 :|
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