They were best friends once upon a time—but now, grown orphans Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) and Alina (Cristina Flutur) are on very different paths. Voichita is a devoted nun living in a Romanian monastery, while Alina, who has come to visit her beloved chum, has spent the past few years eking out a meager living in Germany. There are hints that their relationship was more than platonic. Yet it’s the emotional pull between the duo that creates the greatest level of tension, both for themselves and for Voichita’s fellow monastics, who slowly become convinced that Alina is demonically possessed.
As in his much-lauded 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), the latest feature from Palme d’Or–winning filmmaker Cristian Mungiu takes a rigorous approach to the material (dispassionately observant long takes are the norm). But where the previous film—about two women seeking a back-alley abortion—was a reductively dour slog, Beyond the Hills feels more caustically all-encompassing. As with a number of Romanian movies exported stateside, there’s an undercurrent of pungently straight-faced satire, specifically targeted at the havoc caused by the religious characters’ blinkered naïveté. (The film features what may be the most inept exorcism ever performed.) But Mungiu’s scope is much larger than a simplistic antireligious screed. Patiently, he builds a case that connects the monastery’s impure purity to the larger secular society surrounding the convent and how it is complicit in the climate that leads to Voichita and Alina’s downfall. A bracingly perfect final sequence drives the point home: No one can ever truly wipe the stains from their souls.
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