Young nuns cooped up in a monastery. Lustful yearnings. The hint of demonic possession. What seems like the makings of a tawdry horror show becomes a subtle and moving exploration into the sacred and profane. The miracle worker here is Christian Mungiu, the Romanian writer-director who helped put his country’s cinema on the map with 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, a firebomb about illegal abortion. Beyond the Hills plays it closer inside, timed to the beat of bruised hearts. Alina (Cristina Flutur) has come to the monastery to visit her childhood friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), now in the service of God. Had they been lovers? The film suggests, but never shows – only Alina’s desire to lead Voichita off to a life beyond. Both actresses are exceptional. Mungiu lets the bleakness of these lives seep into the soul. Exorcist junkies should look elsewhere. Instead of spinning heads and projectile puke, Mungiu offers nuance and provocation. The result is quietly devastating.
From The Archives Issue 1178: March 14, 2013