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Beyond The Hills
Criterion Collection, Special Edition
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With this arresting drama based on notorious real-life events, Cristian Mungiu mounts a complex inquiry into faith, fanaticism, and indifference. At a desolate Romanian monastery, a young novice nun, Voichiţa (Cosmina Stratan), reunites with her former companion Alina (Cristina Flutur), who plans to take her to Germany. But Voichiţa proves unwilling to abandon her calling, and Alina becomes increasingly desperate to reclaim her devotion, putting the outsider at odds with the monastery’s ascetic priest—and precipitating a painfully misguided, brutal attempt to save her soul. A naturalistic tragedy with the dark force of a folktale, anchored by the fraught dynamic between cinema newcomers Flutur and Stratan (who shared the best actress prize at Cannes), Beyond the Hills bears powerful witness to individuals at cross-purposes and institutions ill-equipped to help those most in need.
DIRECTOR-APPROVED BLU-RAY SPECIAL EDITION FEATURES
- 2K digital transfer, approved by director Cristian Mungiu, with 2.0 surround DTS‑HD Master Audio soundtrack
- New interview with Mungiu
- The Making of “Beyond the Hills,” a documentary from 2013, produced by Mungiu
- Press conference from the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, featuring Mungiu and actors Cosmina Stratan, Cristina Flutur, Valeriu Andriuţă, and Dana Tapalagă
- Deleted scenes
- New English subtitle translation
- PLUS: An essay by film scholar Doru Pop
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Voichita is a novice at a monastery, and invites Alina to stay awhile. Somewhat isolated, over the hill from a town, in a beautiful setting, with simple but elegant wooden buildings, without electricity or running water, the monastery seems a good place for healing a wounded soul. Which has long been a main purpose of spiritual institutions: to provide sanctuary, a place of solace for even the least among us.
Each woman seems very fragile, vulnerable, dependent, in sore need of someone, something, to lean on. A need exacerbated, almost certainly, by growing up without a family, and by the deficiencies of the orphanage. But who, now and then, doesn't have that need? For Voichita the monastic community and faith in God have become shelter. For Alina it seems the love for her friend is her refuge.
And that love becomes more hysterical. Perhaps Alina's recognition of the fierceness of that love and of the impossibility of its full affirmation and consummation is what finally pushes, pulls her, already teetering, over.
The hospital where she is taken is, to put it mildly, inadequate: ice-cold in its efficiency, bleak and heartless in its rationality. Their solution is to strap her down, pump her full of drugs; and when her fits of frenzy have subsided, but recognizing that their treatment is deficient, to send her back to the monastery. A foster family, introduced briefly, seems interested above all in money.
It gets worse. You've read the synopsis: Alina is deemed devil-possessed and is tortured by those who seem genuinely well-intentioned, kind, caring. Voichita's efforts on behalf of her friend are restrained by her own faith in and obedience to the institution and its leaders. And they seem surprised that their sincere and traditional efforts on behalf of God and Alina's soul should be harshly judged by outsiders.
This fragmentation, deficiency, dysfunction, hollowness, cruelty, obtuseness, etc. of institutions is, frankly, not limited to Romania or Moldova. As if some essential binding, transforming item is missing. We're shown an extreme case, but it's from the far end, from the distance, that the generalness and familiarity of the outlines, the common shape of things, is often more clearly recognized. If the work, and it is so very well done here, keeps us both involved and detached, guides us to intense empathy and to contemplation of the wider picture.
Near the close is a scene with Voichita in the center of the frame. She's no longer wearing the clothes of a novice, but seems ready to embark on her own. She covers her head with a shawl and at that moment reminded me of portraits of the Madonna, especially Antonello da Messina's "Palermo Annunciation". As around her arguments swirl between police and nuns and priest, Voichita remains strangely unperturbed, calm, inward, as if accepting some recognition and change within.
Will this winter ever end? asks a cop in the van on the hectic road through bleak scenery and abrasive noise, as a truck splashes the windshield with dark sludge. Voichita sits in back, calm, waiting.