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Cristian Mungiu Talks Not Cutting Cannes Winner 'Beyond the Hills,' New Poster, EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

Photo of Anne Thompson By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood January 31, 2013 at 1:49PM

The rare and glorious 35 mm "Beyond the Hills," which won the best actress prize at Cannes for its two non-pro leads, plays too long for many who expect conventional pacing and don't accept Mungiu's rigorous aesthetic, which requires that he not cut within a scene. He can trim the front or the back, but not the middle.
Cristian Mungiu
Cristian Mungiu

What's exciting about seeing new movies at festivals before critics get to them is making up your own mind, especially about films that are fashioned outside the box of what is deemed commercial or accessible to audiences. If you don't go to the first screening, though, you are subject to buzz--often a constantly repeated meme about a film that can be dangerous to hear because it may not predict your own experience of the film at all. A case in point is Cristian Mungiu's "Beyond the Hills" (March 8), which IFC picked up sight unseen before the Cannes Film Festival based on their prior relationship with the Romanian auteur's last feature, the Palme d'Or-winning "4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days." The meme? "Too long."

But the Cannes jury rewarded the rare and glorious 35 mm "Beyond the Hills" with a shared Best Actress prize for its two non-pro actresses, Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur, as well as a screenplay prize for Mungiu.

The shortlisted Oscar submisssion from Romania for best foreign film plays long for someone who expects conventional pacing and may not understand Mungiu's rigorous aesthetic, which requires that he not cut within a scene. He can trim the front or the back, but not the middle. He explains his philosophy--and how challenging it is to execute-- in our video interview below. "It is not fair to tell the spectator if something is important or not important," he says. "The camera doesn't move unless something triggers it."

"Beyond the Hills"
"Beyond the Hills"

This forces Mungiu to be clever about choreographing 12-minute pieces of action, adding off-screen information, and relying heavily on the use of sound.  And his actors benefit, he says: "They are given space to develop emotions without cutting," sometimes via as many as 30 takes.

It's been five years since his last film; in the meantime the filmmaker had a second child, finished building his house, produced documentaries, participated in the 2009 180-minute omnibus film "The Golden Age," "two films in one," he says, which "took a while," and directed commercials, including one for the Orange telephone company.

You can see the weariness on Mungiu's face as he recalls what a wrenching experience this film was, shooting multiple takes with his actors in the extreme winter cold. "The camera freezes at minus 15 degrees," he points out matter-of-factly. The clouds of breath rising from the actors' mouths? Not CG.

Beyond the Hills poster

This article is related to: Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, Cristian Mungiu, Interviews, Interviews , Beyond The Hills, Awards, Awards, Oscars

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.