Alina and Voichita have been friends since their orphanage days. And they have been lovers since they became sexually mature. But despite their oath of mutual fidelity, Alina, who could not bear poverty any more, emigrated to Germany where she became a barmaid. Now she just could not take the estrangement from Voichita and today she is back to Romania with a view to taking Voichita along with her to Germany. The only trouble is that in the meantime her girlfriend has betrayed her in falling in love with... God! Voichita indeed now lives in a convent where she plans to make vows. The priest agrees, if somewhat reluctantly, to accommodate Alina before their (hypothetical) departure. He sees all too well that not only is the young woman materialistic but hostile and troublesome as well...Written by
'Based on a true story' – a phrase that can cover so many bases - is the slow-burning and languorous Romanian film Beyond the Hills.
Set predominantly in a monastery in a bleak and poverty-stricken district, it is a complex and multi-layered film revolving around two young women, Alina and Voichita. Previously childhood friends then lovers, their lives intertwine once more when Alina returns from working in Germany in an attempt to once more enter into a relationship with Voichita who has since taken Holy Orders and is living the chaste and extremely frugal life of a nun. The rekindling of the relationship was always doomed and as Alina's mental health deteriorates with the realisation that she will not achieve her objective, she provokes a series of events culminating in the belief by some that she is possessed and needs cleansing.
A Romanian film about faith, despair and unrequited lesbian love in an impoverished monastery was never likely to be an action-packed, sensationalist blockbuster. It is long at 155 minutes and its pace tends to alternate between dead slow and stop. It's the sort of a film which will take over 5 minutes to show a nun leaving the kitchen to draw water from the well and return to the kitchen with no dialogue or plot advancement throughout that period. But it is a film that has the courage to take its time, confident that it can draw you into the lives of the people whose story it tells. And on the whole it succeeds.
There are no real villains or heroes in the film. It does not take the easy route to mock and blame religion for out-dated belief – when a nun believes she has been sent a sign from God and goes all peculiar, the Orthodox Priest in charge cuts down the hysteria curtly and tells her and the other nuns to move on. No, the people shown in this film, be they doctors, police or those of the cloth, are portrayed as well-meaning individuals all looking to do no harm even if, like all of us, they can be judgmental and self-righteous on occasion. Beyond the Hills is an unashamedly bleak and ultimately very sad film which gives no answers but merely records events leaving its audience to draw their own conclusions.
Cinematography was good, though the constant sound of the ever-blowing wind was sometimes crude and off-putting.
And there was an early failure of the sub-titles. When Alina first arrives at the monastery, the camera concentrates on a hand-written sign at its entrance. It's clearly of some import for it to be shown so, but the audience is not let in on its message. Post-film research ascertained it stated, words to the effect: This is the House of God. Forbidden to those of different religion. You must believe and not doubt. It would have explained much.
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