directors

Cristian Mungiu on his stark, stunning 'Beyond the Hills'

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Cristian Mungiu — one of the main reasons everyone's all excited about the Romanian New Wave — follows up his Palme d'Or winner, 2007's 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, with another stark look at a troubled friendship between two women. Beyond the Hills' Voichita and Alina (Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, who shared the Best Actress prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival; for his part, Mungiu won Best Screenplay) were BFFs and, we slowly realize, lovers while growing up at a Romanian orphanage.

When they aged out of the facility, the reserved Voichita moved to a rural monastery to become a nun, and the outburst-prone Alina pinballed around, doing a stint as a barmaid in Germany before turning up in Voichita's village, lugging emotional baggage of the jealous, needy, possibly mentally ill, and definitely misunderstood variety. It can't end well for anyone, as all involved — dismissive local doctors, Alina's no-longer-accommodating foster family, the priest (Valeriu Andriuta), and the other nuns — would rather not spend any time or energy caring for a troubled, destitute outsider. Even Voichita can only look on helplessly as an exorcism, a brutal and cruel procedure, is decided upon as Alina's last, best hope.

Based on a real 2005 incident in Moldavia, Mungiu's unsettling film is a masterpiece of exquisitely composed shots, harsh themes, and naturalistic performances. I conducted the following email interview with Mungiu ahead of Beyond the Hills' Fri/15 Bay Area release.

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