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NYFF: Cristian Mungiu Disappointed With Church Reaction To 'Beyond The Hills,' Talks The Lack Of Romanian Cinema Culture

Photo of Christopher Bell By Christopher Bell | The Playlist October 12, 2012 at 3:04PM

Cristian’s Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” took two substantial awards at its Cannes premiere -- Best Screenplay and Best Actress -- but this writer still can’t help but think word has been unfairly quiet about the rather phenomenal film after the Croisette cleared. Employing a much more refined aesthetic previously used in “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days,” the filmmaker’s newest tackles rigid faith, emotional/spiritual turmoil, and grave indifference. Up at an Orthodox Church in rural Romania, Voichita (Cosmina Straten) meets with estranged best friend Alina (Cristina Flutur) and allows her to temporarily stay at the convent before leaving for Germany. Both former orphans (with a deeper relationship hinted at), the newcomer disapproves of Voichita’s religious calling and believes that she will join her in the move -- but when that doesn’t happen, both go to disastrous lengths to set the other on what they think is the right path.
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Beyond The Hills
Hometown Reception
The films that make up the body of Romanian New Wave Cinema aren’t exactly fun, easy-going treats, but their grim, atmospheric nature has managed to charm the pants off of festival juries and cinephiles all over the world. Back in his homeland, though, the reaction is much more mild -- Mungiu admits that people came to see ‘4 Months,’ but only because it had won the Palme d’Or. “There’s not much of a Romanian audience left, to be honest. We lost all the theaters that we had. A whole generation of people watched cinema in theaters, now they watch movies at home. ‘Police, Adjective’ for example and most of the films from these Romanian directors will never make more than 10-15,000 Euros in theaters, which is really very little for a film distributed there,” he lamented, adding, “I think we have more spectators around the country when we tour with them than at home, which is not necessarily a very nice thing, but it’s the reality.”

It’s no secret that box office isn’t what it used to be, but the filmmaker also chalks it up to a radical change in audience taste. “People have lost their understandings of such films, they have been exposed for twenty years already of cinema that is only entertainment. All of the sudden, the habit of understanding that there is an alternative to that, that cinema could be done in a different way, is pretty much lost," he said. "We hope that after the success we’ve had after the past ten years that someone would try to build a system of screening these films but it never happened. So it’s still us trying to promote them and give education to teenagers and young people, either through film festivals or schools where this kind of cinema can reach them.” Even so, he knowingly concludes with a laugh, “We don’t make them easy for spectators. It’s a very radical way of understanding cinema and a risky way of working.”

Beyond The Hills
The Offering
It’s not just the young gun directors in Hollywood that get offers left and right -- even the art-house auteurs will be approached with potential directing gigs after a high-profile win at certain film festivals. Still, it seems the work wasn’t enticing enough, with Mungiu noting the unpreferable working conditions compared to what he does in Romania. “For the moment I’ve decided not to do any of them. There are two different ways of working: the way I work where I make all the decisions, or the way of working where people involve private money and you’re just the director. Not the writer, you don’t necessarily cast people, and maybe you don’t have the final cut," he explained. "The film will be the result of several points of views and you are doing part of it. I’m thinking about making a film in a different language at some point and I would like to use the great American actors, but place them closer system of working that I’m used to. This is an experience that tempts me more than just working for hire.” 

It appears that the director already has certain people in mind, but for now his lips are sealed. “I’ve been talking to some very interesting and important actors, and of course I wouldn’t name any of them, but what I’d like to do is give people the opportunity to act in something completely different that is very far away from what they’re known for. I think some of them need that opportunity because they are very good but kind of captives of their public images because of the films they do," he teased. "You have to give them that opportunity that allows them to do something really different and show that. That would be tempting.”

"Beyond the Hills" will hit theaters in 2013 via IFC Films.

This article is related to: Cristian Mungiu, Interview, New York Film Festival , Interviews, Beyond The Hills


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