Alec Barclay opened his introduction of this weeks Robert Burns Centre Film Theatre Film Club screening of Beyond the Hills (2012) by telling us a little about the director. After studying at the public University of Iasi Romanian born Cristian Mungiu worked as teacher and a journalist after which he studied film directing at the University of Film in Bucharest. Graduating in 1998 he made several short films and in 2002 made his first feature film Occident a film about young people that move to the West when they can’t makes ends meet in their own country. His best known, and second feature film, was the award winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (2007). This brilliantly observed film is set in the final years of the Ceausescu-era Romania and is the story of two young students, one of whom is pregnant and wants an illegal abortion.
Our host went on to tell us a little of the background to this weeks film. Again written and directed by Mungiu but inspired by the non-fiction novels of Tatiana Niculescu Bran and based on a true story that happened in 2005 when a young novice was subjected to an exorcism. The story centres on of two young girls who have grown up in care and find themselves residing in a very strict Orthodox convent. Alina (Cristina Fluter) returns to Romania from a waitressing job in Germany to persuade Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) to come back with her to Germany. But Alina discovers that her friend and lover is now a devout member of a religious community and is persuaded to move into the monastery where the groups leaders, known as mother and papa, try to convert their new inmate to the strict ways of their religious order. Refusing to conform, her behaviour gradually becomes increasingly strange with a series of violent outbursts and it is suspected that an evil spirit has possessed her.
A lively discussion followed with some people criticising the film for being to long at 155 minutes, but the majority agreed that this welcome addition to Romanian cinema and was well worth its unhurried running time with a story that held you firmly in its grip. The films direction, its cinematography and the strength of the acting made the whole experience totally believable. The simplistic way of life of the religious community along with their superstitions and their bleak and unforgiving existence was totally credible. As was the underlying sexual urges of the two main protagonists, comparing the power of earthy love and that of heavenly love. Mungiu even made the members of this misguided religious order seem kind and considerate for all the enforced dogma. Unquestionably this magnificent film makes you stop and think.
|....as does Voichita.|