"Beyond the Hills": Nun Shall Pass

As girls, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur) grew up at the same orphanage. Now they're in their twenties, and after years apart, Alina visits the secluded monastery where Voichita has become a nun. Alina's faith is in her friend's love; Voichita suggests God's instead. They seem determined to rescue each other. Even viewers unfamiliar with the earlier work of Romanian director Cristian Mungiu will detect a tragic bearing here. Mungiu's much lauded previous effort, 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, was another film about two young women on parallel courses past a point of no return. Beyond the Hills is less urgent, overlong and occasionally repetitive, but no less thoughtful and, in the end, devastating. Voichita's fellow nuns don't take well to Alina's disruptive influence. With approval from their strict and stubborn priest (Valeriu Andriuta), they read her emotional outbursts as signs of possession, and soon enough Voichita sees her friend bound and gagged and chained to a cross. "We're not the ones harming her," one nun says. Mungiu seems to want more than just an allegory of self-incriminating religiosity. (The film derives from actual events, as detailed in two journalistic books by Tatiana Niculescu Bran.) With formal finesse, particularly in the opening and closing shots, he keeps just enough distance to maintain a subjective yet internally conflicted point of view.

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