A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
"Beyond the Hills" is an arthouse film from Romania, yet, in its slow, lurching progress toward a tragic exorcism, it is a stylistic nephew of America's "The Exorcist." William Friedkin's classic adaptation of a William Peter Blatty novel was pitched as popcorn entertainment for nervous Christians, whereas director Cristian Mungiu's embellishment of a true story (from the "non-fiction novels" by Tatiana Niculescu Bran) ultimately laments superstition, ignorance and indifference.
As with the "The Exorcist"'s implicit praise of faith versus a monstrously rational medical establishment, "Beyond the Hills" bursts to life when discreetly expressing a passion for… passion. Even in scenes that aren't set in blinding snow drifts, Mungiu's frame gives off a bitter chill to make your teeth chatter, all the better to offset characters whose sense of devotion burns so fiercely as to prove fatal.
Somewhere in rural Romania, young Alina (Cristina Flutur) visits her old boarding school friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) at the Orthodox convent where the latter has become a devout Christian. They're in their late teens now, and it's evident in their private moments together that they once enjoyed an intimate (and likely carnal) relationship, which Voichita now treats as a sin to be confessed and suppressed. Alina wants Voichita to run away from the convent with her, but Voichita won't budge. She wants Alina to do as she herself has done, redirect her passion for another person over to Christ.
It's the crackerjack stuff of a good melodrama or exploitation flick, but Mungiu, like many a priestly European auteur, isn't about to send his characters careening from one juicy plot point to another. The story proceeds as if captured, day by day, by some angelic documentary crew.