Dealuri) Christian Mungiu (Romania
2012) Valeriu Niculescu; Comina
Stratan; Christina Fluture
viewed: NYFF Ticket:
Not dug into the Hills…
Beyond the Hills (BH) looks like and is written and acted like a TV movie. I didn’t see Christian Mungiu’s (CM) feature Four months three weeks two days, but looking at BH he does not seem to me to count amongst the innovative distinctive group of filmmakers who have emerged out of Romamia in the past decade.
BH is set in a rural Orthodox community of nuns who are led by an priest. Its driving narrative mechanism invokes Alina’s search for reaching for an old friendship within the parallel world of a religious space. BH presents as a movie that is uncertain of itself, or its theme and this uncertainty is most of all communicated in the way in which it has been produced and shot.
BH is a laboriously played out drama that attempts to adopt some of the outer signing of filmic signification, but in this signing it simply lacks, significance. For example CM’s deployment of long hand held tracking shots and cinematic ploys such as focusing his camera’s attention onto the details of the set or the setting. As if such gestures could in themselves be enough to substantiate a claim that we are watching a film rather than a TV movie. BH flaunts some of the outer appurtenances of filmic technique, but lacks understanding of how they might actually work as part of the movie.
There is a problem with the long tracking shots, such as the one in the opening sequence in which the steadicam follows Alina as she walks beside the length of a train at the station, to find Vouhita. All that is indicated here in this long shot, is a laborious durational literalism. It does not invoke a transposable relational structural idea that might inherently link the shot to core theme of the script which which is a certain type of ‘seeking out’. Perhaps the shot would have worked better if Alina had been filmed walking into the steadycam. A recurrent weakness of BH is that a heavy handed sort of literalism characterises most of the long duration shots. A literalism that leads nowhere. The camera that can record everything but reveal nothing. The long shots, devoid of any filmic thesis or inherent tension only add duration to the material, ( the film is 2 ½ hours long) and contribute nothing in substance to the film’s core ideas: neither the quest for unequivocal friendship; nor contribute anything the audience’s understanding of the unfolding of events.
CM’s directorial handling if BH raises questions as to how the technical and cinematographic structuring elements of a movie relate to its filmic theme or subject.
For instance in a recent film, Once upon a time in Anatolia by Nuri Ceylan, the theme, and the narrative revolve round the idea of ‘uncovering’, an uncovering at different levels; both physically in the form of a body, and psychically in the musings and fears in the minds of the protagonists. In the long night of the first section of the film, the long takes have the effect drawing the audience into the nature of searching for things in the darkness; of a groping towards and of an uncertainty in the characters, the which mood lies at the heart of the film. The way the film is shot, including the long shot of the girl serving tea to the searchers by oil lamp, is grounded within the film’s core. The setting, the use of illumination as an the idea that little can actually be seen, and the shot duration, are intrinsic to the film’s unfolding, the nature of the manifestation of light let into obscurity..
Those film makers who are certain of what they are doing, contemporary film makers such as Ceylan, Porumboiu, von Trier, Haneka, the themes and structure of their films are grounded in the way in which they are designed shot and edited. So lighting and sound designs the nature of the originating medium, the way the film is shot are all intrinsic to the theme of their material.
What seems to happen is that more derivative film makers admire some of the affects arising out of grounded movies, perhaps mistaking them for stylistic gloss, and adapt ideas or borrow these production and filmic affects for their own purposes. In effect they graft onto their material technical and production solutions without understanding exactly how they actually work as grounded signifiers.
I believe that CM in BH has mistaken simple duration of shot as an affect that can transpose the idea of the search for meaning. In fact other shooting techniques in relation to intensity and quest, might have worked better. In this case the HD origination of the material was also counterproductive; visually also presenting a literalist image rather than the softer more inchoate yearnings for an uncompromised relations.
Even on its own terms as a plodding narrative I did not find BH convincing. My festival companion at the movie was Ana Marton, who had seen CM’s ‘Four months…’. She felt that the critical relation in BH the friendship or ex friendship Alina and Vouhita had been written and depicted by a writer who knew little about woman’s friendships. The friendship as depicted in BH seemed designed to express conformity with the demands of the script rather than authentic movement of two vulnerable women. The two actresses seemed to have been given personality instructions by CM and then had to keep to that character profile, to do as they were told. The result is two mono dimensional performances that hardly seem to register the one to the other, as if each actress were isolated from the other in a sort of character bubble. I do wonder how the ‘jury’ at Cannes arrived at the decision to give both actresses the Palme d’ Or’ for these perfomrances? I don’t get it. Adrin Neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org