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Movie review: Beyond the Hills

Posted 5:17pm on Thursday, Mar. 28, 2013

Unrated (violence, nudity); 152 min.

Of all the movies that culminate in a rite of exorcism, Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu's remarkable Beyond the Hills stands alone.

It is a different sort of horror movie, focused on character and on the precarious emotional state of lovers whose affair has come to an abrupt close. The film's formal rigor is marked by long, meticulously composed shots, often with six or more characters jostling for attention within the frame. Mungiu, whose works include 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, allows his story to breathe and to evoke a community and a country where, as they say, everyone has their reasons.

It springs from a real event. In 2005, BBC Bucharest bureau chief Tatiana Niculescu Bran reported on an incident in which a young woman visiting a friend, a novice in a rural Moldavian monastery, died after being subjected to a form of exorcism. Mungiu's first pass at a dramatic treatment of these events hewed closely to the historical record. Then, with each draft, his screenplay invented its own relationships and situations, and Beyond the Hills left stultifying docudrama behind.

As a contemporary Romanian tragedy of bureaucratic manners, Beyond the Hills is full of moments familiar to anyone who's seen recent Romanian films such as The Death of Mr. Lazarescu. There are always forms to fill out, and those overseeing that paperwork ooze contempt for their victims, or disinterest in doing things correctly.

The monastery's financial difficulties are rehashed through frequent discussions of buying on credit, the need for gas money, the no-win options available to those who need a place to live.

The film's coda overstays its welcome and settles for an easy, weary shrug that belongs to a different picture. 4 Months stayed sharp and riveting to the final second; this one's a little looser. But Beyond the Hills is an experience: two-plus hours of real and supple cinema.

In Romanian with English subtitles.

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-- Michael Phillips,

Chicago Tribune

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