One thing’s for sure when you watch Cristian Miungiu‘s Beyond The Hills, a grim, lean and severely disciplined drama about suppressed longing in a remote Romanian monastery: you don’t want to live in it. (Certainly not in the sense that critic Jim Hoberman wanted on a certain fanciful level to literally reside within Francois Truffaut‘s Shoot The Piano Player.) But you’re not looking to escape it either.
When I saw it last May my feeling, more or less, was “this is obviously the opposite of lightweight escapism and while I’m glad to be absorbing a new film from the esteemed maker of 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, it’s nice knowing that it’ll be over in a couple of hours because this is Diary of a Country Priest plus libidinal longing plus harsh weather plus screaming fits, repression, torture and tragedy.”
Sundance Selects won’t be making Mungiu’s film viewable until March 2013, but it’s currently being screened and promoted for awards-season consideration as a Best Foreign Language Feature contender.
Here’s part of what I wrote from Cannes on 5.18.12: “[This is] an intensely austere, moralistic, monastic and harsh-atmosphere thing with repressed Sapphic undertones and all kinds of authoritarian foulness and constipation. The slowly building film observes the tyranny of religion and considers the inevitable result of trying to keep long-building steam from escaping the pot.
“Mungiu’s screenplay is based upon a 2006 book called “Deadly Confession” by Tatiana Niculescu Bran, which is based on true events.
“Boiled down, it’s about love denied and an improvised exorcism gone wrong. It’s about two female friends, Voiochita and Alina (Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur), who grew up together and became lovers in an abusive state orphanage, and who are reunited when Alina comes to visit Voichita, who has become a nun at a remote and highly primitive convent in rural Romania.
“It’s basically about Alina wanting Voichita to be her lover again and perhaps even get her to abandon the convent and leave with her, and when Voichita refuses it’s about Alina deciding she wants also to submit to the discipline and denial of a monastic life but not really — she just wants to cling to Voichita under any circumstance. These currents are soon decipherable, of course, and the priest and the nuns to what they can to head them off at the pass if not squelch the emotions, and eventually things turn manic and loony and then violent. It all turns out very badly.
I also tweeted that it’s “a long, somewhat downerish Bresson film about faith, blockage, monastic ritual and denial, love, insanity, eroticsim, exorcism & the evil one. Very austere, muffled and forbidding. Vaguely creepy, chilly, very slow and deliberate. Disturbing but it doesn’t really pay off. And yet it sort of does. Could or would the ascetic Bresson have made Beyond The Hills? And if he had, would his God have been pleased, angry or non-plussed?”