Beyond The Hills (După dealuri) tells the story of two women, Voichita and Alina, former roommates (and we are lead to believe- lovers) in a Romanian orphanage. After leaving the orphanage the two go in separate directions, with Alina leaving for Germany and Voichita deciding to join an impoverished Orthodox convent. The film begins with Alina’s return for Voichita and it is here where things become complicated for everyone involved.
What unfolds before us is a confusing but incredibly believable story. While many American directors would try and make this film more sensational, it is the simplicity of the actions of all people involved that make it so chilling. When Alina becomes violent the nuns rush her to a hospital, fearing for not only themselves but the troublesome Alina as well. After the doctors discharge an obviously still ill Alina, with the suggestion that the convent is a better place for her, we are left to make up our own minds. Was this superstition on the part of the doctor, or was it a gross oversight?
In the third act everything begins to fall apart. When the nuns suggest an exorcism on the still violent Alina (who refuses to leave without Voichitia and whom the nuns have now bound and gagged on a makeshift stretcher) we are quick to see them only as religious fanatics – but these women are believable in their sincerity and (albeit potentially misplaced) good will. When it is pointed out to them that they have bound Alina on what looks like a cross they are grossly insulted. “The cross is a sacred object!” barks the convent Father.
Beyond The Hills doesn’t say that one side or another (be it the convent or the world outside) is right or wrong, but that both worlds are dangerous. Whenever action moves from the convent our characters are told of horror stories happening to people ‘out in the world’, murders, abuse and depravity. Yet within the convent hysteria is quick to rise and the women live in poverty, frozen to the bone and with no electricity or hot water. Which is worse?
There was something otherworldly about this film. A stillness and honesty that is rarely seen in films that deal with some of the highly delicate subjects that Beyond The Hills tries to broach. It’s also quite difficult to put a definite definition on the type of film this is. Whilst most critics will call it a drama (which of course it is) I felt that there were also traces of horror, documentary styling and even comedy (god forbid! :)). There is a particularly darkly funny scene in which the nuns help Alina mark down on paper which sins she has committed. As they read to her from a book of 424 sins Alina makes a mark for almost every sin read out, growing increasingly embarrassed before the director cuts away at 22.
It was refreshing to see a film deal with the themes of homosexuality, modernity and religious fanaticism so even-handedly. I won’t say that it was a pleasure; the subject matter is bleak and whilst the cinematography created some beautiful vignettes, you can almost feel the cold coming off the screen. It was however an eye opener, a great discussion piece and something I’d recommend, but maybe not on a date night.