Thursday, 26 June 2014

Brief Review of "Beyond The Hills" (2012)

Beyond the Hills is a confronting film about religion, illness and madness. Director Cristian Mungiu has crafted a balanced narrative with a keen eye on the church’s line of tolerance, and the ethics therein.

We enter the convent and learn its systems with Alina, whose character flavours our impressions with caution and uncertainty. But throughout the film Alina becomes increasingly ill, crazy and distant. In some scenes we don’t even see her face, just the back of her and the apprehensive faces of those she is confronting. VoichiĊ£a could then be seen as the protagonist of the film, but as a whole the film follows no one character, but rather the ideas and moral questions at the core of the events.

The film is tremendously dialogue-heavy. There are dozens of scenes with many characters exchanging vast back-and-forths in soft, hushed voices. And there is always drama in the discussion, with characters always requesting, convincing, disciplining or attempting to understand one another. This constant and evolving conflict and debate comprises the core intrigue of the film. These scenes are also exceptional for their length without cuts; many long takes go for minutes in one camera shot.

To pick nits, the film is probably too long. Some shots are too dark and too slow, and could have been trimmed without losing atmosphere or meaning. That said, the filmmaker’s choice to take his ponderous own time is commendable.

The final scenes, in which the priest and several nuns are arrested for the murder of Alina, show a striking twist of power dynamics. Suddenly the priest, who until now has been a sure-minded leader, appears like a child who has been caught doing something naughty, obeying the every instruction of the now-dominant police.

The amount of drama that can be caused by one individual (in this case, the character Alina) is incredible.