Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Pale View of Hills

Sorry I haven't been blogging much my friends.  It's been a slower film watching month than usual for me.  It's also been a pretty languid month, with work generally sapping the little energy I have for anything outside of it.  I'm sure the rest of you can relate.

I'm also sorry to Brandon for not responding to his revenge list post.  I think after writing that last revenge post I felt drained of anything more substantive to say on the subject.  I did really enjoy your list and write-ups though, Brando.  If I had to make a top five list of the revenge films that challenged me the most, it would probably include these:  FURY, UNFAITHFULLY YOURS, THE BIG HEAT, IN THE BEDROOM, and OLD BOY.  Honorable mentions would be: THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, STRAW DOGS, IRREVERSIBLE, and DOGVILLE.  I wouldn't include ONCE UPON THE TIME IN THE WEST either for the same reasons as you, despite how much I love that movie and its revenge subplot.  There's too many disparate narratives going on there to limit it to a simple revenge arc.  UNFAITHFULLY YOURS probably seems like the oddball of the bunch here, but it really is a great film about wanting revenge so mercilessly that it blinds and disorients you.  It's also incredibly hilarious.  I still need to see DESPERADO and THE MASK OF ZORRO.  I'm due for a solid Antonio Banderas revenge flick night one of these days it would seem.


Cristian Mungiu's BEYOND THE HILLS is instantly one of my very favorite films of 2012.  It recalls the best of Dreyer and Bresson - a stark and wholly riveting look at the complex and potentially devastating split between the spiritual and the corporeal, the desire for transcendence and the pull of the immanent life.  It's a serpentine tragedy of existence in the grandest of terms.  The world of this film is buried in muck and nothing will wipe it clear.  All that was previously hidden is revealed; all that was once distant seems infinitely near.

Shot in the easily the most beautiful and austere long takes since THE TURIN HORSE, BEYOND THE HILLS follows two orphaned girls, Voichita and Alina (lifelong friends and possibly former lovers), as they each head down unfathomably divergent paths.  Voichita has joined an orthodox monastery that stresses atavistic living and a complete disavowal of the carnal and material world.  Alina has been living in Germany, but has come to stay with Voichita at the monastery, hoping to eventually persuade her to join her for a new job prospect aboard a cruise ship.  Alina arrives at the monastery hoping that her relationship with Voichita will be unchanged, that the two can still share a bed together and feel as much need for one another as they did during their time in the orphanage.  But Voichita is a different person now; she has given herself entirely to God and stresses to Alina that no earthly person or thing can hold a higher place in her heart than the Lord.  Alina is wounded to the core by this; she needs Voichita and cannot understand how her friend could now be so aloof to her when she was once so tender and palpable for her.  For anyone who's ever experienced a change of heart from a loved one or an inflamed passion grown cold, this is truly devastating stuff.  Your heart aches for both of these young women.

(The opening shot of the film is a paragon of using visual imagery to delineate themes that will lay the groundwork for the story that will unfold.  Voichita walks in the opposite direction of a large crowd, following her own obdurate path, until she reaches Alina, who pulls her into an effusive hug that embarrasses Voichita.  Right from the first shot, we have Voichita at odds with the modern society around her and Alina's desires - themes that will unfold, bound, and constrict around everything throughout the film.)

Mungiu explores the heartbreaking relationship between these two women as it is being torn asunder, but also the uneasy relation this orthodox community has with the modern world that surrounds it.  These two antithetical spheres inevitably and irrevocably clash making an incredibly profound and moving portrait of miscommunication and dissociation that extends beyond the emotionally raw story of the two women.  The amazing feat is that Mungiu manages to charge both the modern society and orthodox community without utterly condemning either.  He just presents two structures that cannot coexist and lets us reflect on the tragedy of their philosophical and spiritual partitions.  They might as well exist in separate universes they are so disjointed.

Fair warning: this is a long, very rigid and deliberately paced film.  I can already hear Brandon bemoaning its excessive length and needless repetitions ;) (though hopefully he'll still love it).  It may require some patience, but I promise you that if you focus intently on the simmering conflict unfolding and the individual tensions of each scene, you will be enthralled.  This is austere but purposeful filmmaking with a profound sense of dread and an overarching sadness.  It's certainly not to be missed.  It's also a masterpiece.

With that all being said, here is my updated 2012 list (and my 2011 list).  I shuffled some things around to make them adhere to the John Owen-IMDB release date system:


1. The Master (Anderson)
2. Like Someone in Love (Kiarostami)
3. Beyond the Hills (Mungiu)
4. Cosmopolis (Cronenberg)
5. Tabu (Gomes)
6. Zero Dark Thirty (Bigelow)
7. Holy Motors (Carax)
8. Lincoln (Spielberg)
9. Moonrise Kingdom (Anderson)
10. Amour (Haneke)


1. The Turin Horse (Tarr)
2. The Tree of Life (Malick)
3. The Kid with a Bike (Dardenne Brothers)
4. A Separation (Farhadi)
5. Drive (Refn)
6. This is Not a Film (Panahi, Mirtahmasb)
7. Le Havre (Kaurismäki)
8. Take Shelter (Nichols)
9. Oslo, August 31st (Trier)
10. The Skin I Live In (Almodóvar)

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