Already a hit at the Cannes festival earlier this year, Cristian Mungiu’s film ‘După Dealuri’ (Beyond the hills) will be Romania’s entry into the foreign language film section of the Oscars 2013. The five nominees for the foreign language film section of the Oscars will be announced in January 2013 by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Mungiu’s film won two awards at Cannes – Best Screenplay and the Best Actress award was shared by the two female leads, Crisitina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan. His second feature film, ’4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days,’ won Mungiu (in picture) the prestigious Palme D’Or at the Cannes festival in 2007 and was first Romanian film ever to receive a Golden Globe nomination.
După Dealuri is a thoroughly Romanian affair. The cast and crew, the production and the story itself are all local. The film deals with two powerful themes in the Romanian psyche – the Orthodox Church and emigration but, says the director, it “is for me primarily a film about love and free will: mostly about how love can turn the concepts of good and evil into very relative ones.”
Set in Romania’s North Eastern region of Moldavia, the film tells the story of two girls reunited after one returns home from Germany. Alina has come back to Romania to rekindle her relationship with her childhood friend Voichița, but while she has been away, Voichița has found God and joined the local monastery as a novice. Capturing rural Romania and its people was important for Crisitian Mungiu, “I needed actors who could give the impression that they’re simple people, not well educated, from the countryside and, in the main, very religious.” People from the region where the film is set have a distinctive accent, and the director worked hard to establish a sense of veracity in the characters and setting.
The film was made very quickly, in the space of just a few months over winter 2011/2012, but its genesis goes back several years to the real, tragic story of a young woman who died after visiting a monastery and undergoing an exorcism. Although the case and the books written on it by author and journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran provided the starting point for the story, Mungiu intentionally made a fictional film, inspired by, rather than documenting the real events. “My final screenplay is not about what happened in that monastery; it’s not about that priest and about those nuns. It’s fictional and I made a point of moving as far from the original story as I could,” he said.
The director is keen to provoke discussion via the film, saying he hopes “that many regular churchgoers will watch the film and form an opinion after watching it with their own eyes and thinking about it with their own minds – in a way, this is what the film is about: this need.”
Both the lead actresses made their feature film debuts in the film, Cosmina Stratan, who plays Voichița, worked previously as a TV reporter, while Christina Flutur, in the role of Alina, despite being new to film, has extensive experience acting in the theater. The pivotal part of the priest is played by an old associate of Mungiu, Valeriu Andriuță. And yes, the beard is real! Mungiu explained that Valeriu Andriuță had appeared in all the films he’d made when a student and the director had the actor in mind even before he’d finished writing the screenplay. “I called him long before I decided to make the film and asked him if he could let his beard grow. The more months that passed and the more his beard grew, the more I knew I would have to work with him.” Mungiu said after hearing him read a few lines for the part, he knew he’d made the right choice and didn’t bother to audition anyone else for the role.
Beyond the hills takes on a challenging and contentious subject, questioning religion always provokes strong feeling and even during the shooting of the film, the religious differences between those involved was at times an issue, according to Mungiu.
“Deep down, I hope, Beyond the Hills speaks about options and choices in life deriving from education or from the lack of education, and about how many things in life derive from things that you cannot influence, or of which you are not guilty: where you were brought into the world, by whom, and in the middle of which community,” says the writer and director Cristian Mungiu.
Liam Lever, email@example.com