Most would argue that one of the highlights of the film is definitely the script- it did, after all, win the Best Screenplay award in Cannes-but I am not that convinced, although I do think it is very well written. What I admired and loved about Mungiu's script most was that he didn't take sides or focus on a specific theme or idea: he didn't actually pinpoint the fact that it was a mental problem, or it was really the need for an exorcism; he didn't show us a clear relationship type between the two women- they could have been friends or lovers or something else entirely. And he didn't blame it directly on something- that is what impressed me the most: Mungiu let us believe and interpret the actions in our own way, according to our own beliefs, and I believe that is not only a wise thing to do, but a difficult one, as well, and he should be celebrated for it.
I think the script maybe wouldn't have been such a success if not for the performances of the two leading ladies: Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. They not only had great chemistry with each other, but with the other actors, as well, but they individually shined, as two completely different people, both equally complex and troubled. Alina, played by Cristina Flutur, is the more direct, strong type of girl, but who now faces a sad, even depressive moment in her life, as she feels lonely and misguided, and that's why she comes back after her friend. Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), on the other hand, is a shy, kind and static type of person, who only wants to help and be peaceful, and she thinks she has found that with God and the monastery, a situation that Alina does not understand. This situation creates a tension between the girls, but also in themselves, as Alina tries to come to grips with Voichita's change, while the younger woman wants to make her friend follow her lead. Both were challenged in different ways, as they faced horrible decisions and facts; in the end, it was Voichita who had the power to change Alina's fate, but didn't or she did, but much too late. It may be a little confusing for you now, as you read it, but after you see the movie, you will understand- I just don't want to give too much away. Let's just saw that Stratan and Flutur are well worth of their acting award in Cannes, as they gave one of the year's best performances.
Moving on to the filmmaking part, I can say that Cristian Mungiu's typical direction visibly evolved in a more mature, complex way, but still having its visually appealing traits like the wide and close-up shots, or following the individual with camera from behind, and rather unusual shot frames. It worked for 432 and it definitely works here, maybe even better than his first feature. There are also some interesting and sometimes funny shots in Beyond the Hills, like the nuns transporting the girl to the church, or the scene in the end, in the car. He is fast becoming one of my favorite directors out there, alongside Steve McQueen, who I find to have a similar style of directing.
As for the other elements, I loved the cinematography, and again, the sets and costumes, as they were completely realistic and well done. Not much of a score (maybe none at all), but trust me, the film will not bore you- the tension is there most of the time and the script helps it move forward in an interesting way.
Talking to other people about it, I noticed one thing that could cause a problem for viewers, especially non-Romanians. I have been told that there are many subtleties, many small details and knowledge factors that could confuse people, as they are not familiar with the religion or the customs here, and I have to say, I agree, in some parts. That doesn't mean that the script alone, or the relationships and actions revealed are enough to make the film a fantastic one, but you should know it's not as easy to see as an American one, for example.
Overall, Beyond the Hills is yet another big accomplishment, not only of Cristian Mungiu, but also of the Romanian cinema, and I am proud of it. I hope you will like it, too, and I urge you to see it. Just like you saw A Separation last year, or White Ribbon years before that, see this one- it might be an Oscar Foreign Language nominee- at least I hope it will.