Thursday, March 7, 2013

Cristian Mungiu's BEYOND THE HILLS opens -- highlighting those special joys of Romania

Yet another chapter in the ongoing parade of movies designed to set the Romanian Tourist Board's teeth on edge, Cristian Mungiu's latest endeavor -- BEYOND THE HILLS (Dupa dealuri) -- is one more look at what surely appears to be a no-hope society. If you can find a trace of the "h" word in this very long look at female bonding under the thumb, of course, of ignorant males in the "new" Romania, I'll be very impressed. Maybe even hopeful myself.

If TrustMovies had to find one single word that might stand for what's missing in this country's citizens, at least according to most of the movies he's seen from there of late, it would be autonomy. Not that we're all that good at it over here, either, but I think we've probably had a lot more time and opportunity to learn how to manage it as individuals. As Mr. Mungiu (shown at right) observes things, so many of the people we meet, particularly the women and even the male doctor under whose care one of our heroines finds herself, are so in hock to religious faith (now that they've "given up" their Communist path of being in hock to the state), that they can't begin to think or even feel for themselves.

Regarding that MD mentioned above, his Rx for our poor patient consists of Zyprexa, Levomepromazia -- and reading the Scriptures. The movie is full of small minds and simple minds, so much so that it makes the Romanian masterpiece The Death of Mr. Lazarescu look like a model of caring & concern (which, in its bleak, sad way, it is).

In fact, this explains the slightly queasy feeling I have concerning Mungiu's films (which include 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days): They seem shut off to any other possibility except straight-ahead darkness. The films of Cristi Puiu ("Lazarescu," Aurora) and Cornelieu Porumboiu (Police, Adjective) for all their darkness, still leave a door ajar to possibility.

The story this time concerns two young women (above and below), long-time friends since their days being raised in an orphanage. One, Alina, has gone to Germany for a time to work but has now returned, intending to bring her friend, Voichita, back to Germany, too. The latter, unfortunately, is hooked on some religious cult (or maybe this kind of thing is standard religion in Romania), into which she hopes to bring her friend. Alas, she does.

As things go from black to darker, it does seem at times that Alina possesses at least a tad's worth of autonomy. But the crazy manner in which she chooses to use it would indicate that Romanian autonomy is tantamount to madness.

The two girls clearly shared, for a time at least, a love that was both emotional and physical, but now religion prevents any return to that sort of thing. Anytime anyone opens his or her mouth (with the exception of one woman doctor, at the finale), only misplaced faith/garbage spills out.

You will feel strongly for these young women, so yes, the movie is very upsetting. But it is also something of a freight train on its track to a destination that is never in doubt. At least a dollop of doubt is generally a healthy thing -- in society as in film. But if you've a yen for giving in to the bleak, this is certainly the movie for you.

Beyond the Hills, from Sundance Selects and running a very long two-and-one-half hours, opens Friday, March 8, in New York (at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza Cinema) and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Royal, with a nationwide roll-out to follow in the weeks to come.

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