For the longest time, my presumption was that Cristian Mungiu was a woman. With a unisex name and following a film with such a thorough analysis of a feminine perspective in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, it was a minor shock to see the Romanian New Wave movement to actually be led entirely by men. But despite the gender disparity, Mungiu leads the movement with the most insightful of pictures as he develops on the promise shown in 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days. Composed with merciless detail and a profoundly acute sociological eye, Mungiu extends his directorial thesis with a critical deconstruction of social inhibitions and gender politics.
Set in a remote Romanian Orthodox monastery, Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) welcomes her childhood friend Alina (Christina Flutur). Alina’s brash forwardness operates in sharp contrast to Voichita’s conservative lifestyle. As Alina attempts to shower Voichita with affection, Voichita’s demeanor and dedication to her religion prohibit her from ever reciprocating Alina’s love. Mungiu doesn’t ever explicitly address the women’s’ past or sexuality, though in a telling scene where Alina bares her chest acknowledges the possibility of a deep-rooted sexual connection between the two. Struck with a fever, Alina grows increasingly unstable as her hopes of living a recluse life with Voichita seems to be slipping away from her.
Mungiu’s narrative transcends one of a lesbian relationship in turmoil as he unites themes of religiosity and societal expectations to great effect. Whereas many writer/directors find themselves evoking themes for the benefit of complicating a plot, Mungiu’s naturalistic approach allows for a perpetually growing and organic perspective. What comes out of this is a picture of intense pull, one so dense and rich with a sense of the social and environmental milieu. The film’s closing act, whereupon the increasingly sporadic and violent behavior of Alina prompts direct religious intervention, provides a powerful analysis on the boundaries of religion and the crushing nature of imposed sexual mores.
Beyond the Hills possesses a similar hypnotic effect as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, though is perhaps a bit overwrought in length – at two and a half hours, Mungiu can become a bit laborious in his analysis. Still, the picture remains surprisingly fluid in structure and pacing even as it delves into deeper thematic elements. Mungiu has offered two back-to-back complex films on femininity and the constraints of living in a culture that prohibits individuality. While part of a larger movement, I certainly consider Christian Mungiu as the singular voice of the Romanian New Wave movement.