by writer/director Cristian Mungiu
For me, it was difficult to make a film based on real people—even if between the real incident and the film there is a layer pulled from the non-fiction books. It was difficult because I felt I had an extra responsibility on top of the one I normally experience when I make a film, to try to understand and honestly portray both sides of the confrontation.
No matter how much we decided to fictionalize the whole story we always felt we had a responsibility towards the real girl, towards her truth. We also felt we had a responsibility towards the priest and nuns who were involved in the incident: to try to understand why they behaved the way they behaved, to be curious and not judgmental, to look for the truth.
Apart from the subject matter, I feel that as a filmmaker your greatest responsibility is not to be manipulative. You have to allow the spectator the freedom to develop his own opinion about the story, not to impose your view. You have to reveal to him realities he never takes time himself to think about—realities that would make him think more about neglected aspects and values of his own life. I believe cinema can be a good vehicle in helping people fight against stereotypes—as long as it’s conceived like this. Maybe the best compliment I've recieved so far from a spectator who had seen Beyond the Hills is that he left the screening with fewer preconceptions than he had when he entered.
About the style
I shoot in a very different way than mainstream cinema. There is just one single shot, with no cuts for each scene in the film, no matter how long or complex it is. There is no music. The camera doesn’t move unless something from the shot triggers its movement. All this comes from the belief that film has to be as close as possible to reality, and there is no editing in reality; you have to live every single moment of your life—relevant or irrelevant. Furthermore, I believe that a filmmaker shouldn’t be visible in the film—he should abstain from making decisions that would reveal his presence. The story should unfold as a fraction of the reality to which you happen to have access—it shouldn’t come interpreted and with somebody’s conclusions at the end.
About different interpretations of the film
Beyond the Hills is for me primarily a film about love and free will: mostly about how love can turn the concepts of good and evil into very relative ones. Most of the greatest mistakes of this world have been made in the name of faith, and with the absolute conviction they were done for a good cause.
Beyond the Hills also speaks about a certain way of experiencing religion. It has always concerned me how much attention believers place on respecting religious habits and rules and how little on applying the essence and wisdom of Christianity to their day-to-day life, for example.
Preparing for the film I read carefully the list of sins compiled by the Orthodox Church. There are quite a lot (434) and reading them, you cannot but ask yourself all kinds of questions. Still, there is a sin that is not listed and which is amongst the most important things about which the film wishes to speak: the sin of indifference. Or maybe it is not a sin, since it’s not listed. But then what is it? Is it dangerous or not? The film also speaks about the various ways in which Evil can manipulate people, and the subtle ways in which it can manifest itself. I wonder whether indifference is not one of them.
Deep down, I hope, Beyond the Hills speaks about options and choices in life deriving from education or from the lack of education, and about how many things in life derive from things that you cannot influence, or of which you are not guilty: where you were brought into the world, by whom, and in the middle of which community.
The film also speaks about a region of the world—like many others—where long time exposure to an endless succession of misfortunes and atrocities of all kinds has led to a breed of inert people who have lost their normal reactions in front of normal stimuli. This is not necessarily their fault—it is just a natural survival mechanism, but one which is experienced as an extra burden for those still alive amongst them.