Beyond the Hills: In the Full Time of a Slow Romanian Film
In the last essay of For Marx, titled "The 'Piccolo Teatro': Bertolazzi and Brecht, Notes on a Materialist Theatre," French structuralist philosopher Louis Althusser describes Bertolazzi's El Nost Milan in this way: "Its three acts have the same structure, and almost the same content: the coexistence of a long, slowly-passing, empty time and a lightning-short, full time." The structure of each act in El Nost Milan is much like the whole structure of Cristian Mungiu's film Beyond the Hills, which is mostly set in a rural Romanian convent.
The film progresses very slowly and has lots and lots of empty time—nuns praying, nuns eating rustic foods with the resident priest, nuns getting water from the well, nuns sleeping in the dark. At the center of the story are two young women. They were raised in an orphanage, they are very close, but they have very different temperaments. One, Alina (Cristina Flutur), is a rebel and mentally unstable; the other, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), is thoughtful, caring, and sympathetic. The priest, however, hates Alina. He doesn't like her rebellious energy or the sexual tension between him and her. He tries to force her out of the convent, but Alina returns and continues to make life miserable for him. There is also something sexual between Alina and Voichita, and this is really the root of the convent's problems. (Are they friends or lovers? No one can tell.) Suddenly, in the last 10 minutes of the film, something bad happens, the cops arrive to investigate this bad thing, and the whole film comes together nicely and ends quickly. In its burst of "full time," Beyond the Hills completely rewards you for its slow time. Seven Gables, March 29–April 4.