Normally movies with exceedingly long shots, a drab color palette, and no soundtrack can be tough to get through. But if the stakes are high enough, this approach can actually be engaging. Exhibit A: Romania’s official Oscar submission for Best Foreign Language Film, Beyond the Hills—a story of two friends separated by faith. When Alina (Cristina Flutur) arrives at the Romanian monastery where novice nun Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) resides, she tries to convince her pal to flee with her to Germany. Yet Voichita’s newfound faith keeps her captive, severing their bond, which was birthed in an orphanage years earlier.
Director Cristian Mungiu, known for 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, creates a somber mise-en-scene, and while the plot slowly simmers, there are bubbles of laughter and intriguing dialogue that keep viewers firmly engrossed. Mungiu and co-writer Tatiana Niculescu Bran are subtle when pointing out the ironies of fundamentalism, while directly addressing the issues inherent in any highly patriarchal society where women who exercise free will can easily be shunned and condemned as dissident witches. Ultimately, Beyond the Hills educates us on the myriad ways women in other cultures survive in the face of extraordinary circumstances. While at times frustrating, Mungiu’s tale gives audiences a chance to examine both sides of orthodoxy without demonizing anyone.