Film Review: ‘Beyond the Hills’ Entraps Audience in Claustrophobic Nightmare

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CHICAGO – There is an excellent 90-minute film hidden somewhere within the two-and-a-half-hour ordeal that is Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills.” It’s far from a bad film, and offers many sequences of entrancing power, but simply doesn’t have enough material to justify its sprawling running time. Instead of probing deeper, the picture merely becomes repetitive. Oscarman rating: 3.5/5.0
Rating: 3.5/5.0

There’s also a dour sense of inevitability that overtakes the suspense at about the one-hour mark. The final outcome is obvious long before it arrives onscreen, and the same could be said of Mungiu’s previous effort, 2007’s Palme d’Or winner, “4 Months, 3 Weeks and Days.” Yet whereas that brilliant film was fueled by its often excruciating tension, “Hills” unfolds with a ponderously cynical logic. Though Mungiu’s work has brought tremendous global attention to the Romanian film industry, neither film will do the country’s tourism market any favors.

StarRead Matt Fagerholm’s full review of “Beyond the Hills” in our reviews section.

Perhaps Mungiu’s greatest strength is his ability to create a tangibly claustrophobic atmosphere through his utilization of long takes that entrap his characters within unwavering frames. Both “Days” and “Hills” center on a pair of young women confined in a society that is at odds with their increasingly desperate needs. Whereas “Days” upped the suspense tenfold by taking place over a single 24-hour period, “Hills” stretches over a great many days in an enclosed community where time itself appears to have been frozen indefinitely. Though the setting is modern day Romania, that’s hardly apparent at the film’s primary location: an archaic Orthodox monastery tucked in the hills of a desolate countryside. It’s not long before the surrounding hills start to resemble the barred walls of a cage, as a reluctant visitor, Alina (Cristina Flutur), realizes that there’s little hope for escape. Of course, Alina can leave whenever she wants, and the grim priest (Valeriu Andriuta) hopes she leaves as soon as possible, yet the troubled woman doesn’t intend on departing without her dear old friend, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan). It was Alina’s understanding that she would be taking Voichita with her to Germany, but Voichita soon reveals that she has no intention of leaving her new home, for fear of losing the divine love of the Lord. It’s her newfound spiritual devotion that has caused her love for Alina (and all of mankind, for that matter) to run cold.

‘Beyond the Hills’ stars Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuta, Dana Tapalaga and Catalina Harabagiu. It was written and directed by Cristian Mungiu. It opened at Landmark Century Centre Cinema on March 15th, 2013. It is not rated.

StarContinue reading for Matt Fagerholm’s full “Beyond the Hills” review.

Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur star in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills.
Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur star in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills.
Photo credit: Mobra Films/Why Not Productions/Les Films Du Fleuve/France 3 Cinema/Mandragora Movies/IFC Films

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