Beyond The Hills: A Rant!

This is a rant. Read if you have time. Otherwise skip it.

It was anyway not meant for you if you read and watch things based on their length.

To proceed,

I saw a movie this week. It was called Beyond The Hills.

It didn’t win the ‘Best Foreign Language Film’ Oscar this year. Instead, like we all knew it would, ‘Amour‘ did. I mean it won the Palme d’Or at Cannes already and and that in its self was halfway to O in Oscar. Screw Haneke – this one time, please.

I get his baggage and I get the source of his convictions.

He had horrible parents. His aunt who took him in after his parents died, loved him and cared for him like a son. Slowly with age, she began suffering from severe rheumatism related pain and one day asked Haneke to help end her life.

Now for those who are familiar with his movies, one knows the gift that Haneke has been bestowed with to make his audience question the true nature and motives of all human thought and action, so one is forced to wonder – why exactly did he not partake in her mercy killing?

Haneke explains that he knew he’d go to prison because he was the only heir to her fortune and hence had motive for murder in the eyes of the law. So guess what – he denied her. Not on moral grounds but for the sake of self – preservation, the primal of all our instincts.

He even saved his aunt’s life when she tried killing herself without help. Again, why? Was it love or was it fear? Well, the aunt successfully OD’d a year later. Those that need to leave will eventually find a way to leave.

Well, the point of all this being that it is only common sense at work to presume that the disintegration of the human body owing to old age is a very personal subject to him and with AMOUR, he’s made quite the statement.

Michael Haneke

Imagine a young man going through all this and you’ll understand why he makes the kind of movies he makes and what they are all about – the subversion, the provocative nature of his cinema with all its obstruction and evasion. I mean he is the only director in the world to END a movie half way through the last sentence of the protagonist. Who does that?

Actually, I don’t care. I’m more interested in what kind of mind thinks of something like that. Haneke is good. So are most of his movies. I mean his movie CACHE, he directed an entire whodunit/suspense flick without ever showing us ‘who’ did ‘what’ to ‘whom’ and we all bought it hook, line and sinker.

He’s that good.

All this is true and now is where the iconic ‘BUT’ comes in,

BUT … sometimes David, the underdog, just gets it right and Goliath, the giant, kind of gets it right between the eyes.

This little gem, BEYOND THE HILLS is that kind of a movie. You ask what kind?

Well how do I put it … Take ‘Rust and Bone’ for example, that movie is a setup rife with the potential for mawkish sentimentality and insipid inspirational platitudinizing. Look at these poor people overcoming their ‘disabilities’ and ‘disadvantages’ in life to attain a conclusion; some fatalistic attempt like Taare Zameen Par, Guzaarish or Black.
But no, Audiard, the director quickly establishes a different set of parameters — namely, that this is not a movie about a woman who finds the courage to walk again. Rather, it is a movie about two people who must find the far greater courage to surrender themselves emotionally to one another.

‘Beyond The Hills’ like ‘Rust and Bone’, though the setting this time is different – is not sentimental soup. It explores the fascinating and heartbreaking bond between two young women in an oppressive environment.

If you want a fast paced, quick cut, brain freeze, this is not for you. Those of you who are interested in expanding what you know about cinema – this kind if cinema is called ‘atmospheric’ in its very essence. The best place to learn ‘staging’ or ‘how to move your camera and the elements in and of your frame; be it characters, interactions, tangibles or the very components of your frame like the tree in the corner or the color of the wall’.

UP + DOWN, LEFT + RIGHT, IN + OUT or those ‘headache inducing absolutely unrealistic – suspension of disbelief my foot’ permutations of the aforementioned are not the only few ways the camera can be wielded.

And if and when you feel the urge to make the frame dynamic or the film inclusive of the audience, you don’t necessarily need to shake the camera around like either ‘you’ or ‘IT’ is epileptic; like the viewer’s gaze is that of a rabid dog’s. Watch and learn how to employ decisive shot taking and think beyond just ‘shot based editing’ – you can do more than SHOT A + SHOT B = SHOT C to induce emotion or create tension or make the shot absorbing or impart a greater meaning.

Take for example the section in its trailer where the shots are edited when she makes the sign of the cross while kneeling on the snow and see the various meanings it aspires to.

Since we’re talking about image and attributed meaning, just as an aside – let it be known, advertisements are the spawns of Satan. We have begun to lose appreciation for the inherent individual beauty of objects and begin focusing on collisions; connected meaning.

Like chimpanzees in a lab experiment that are trained to pull a lever to be fed juice from a tank, we go on, programmed. In our case, when ad-makers like Prakash Varma of Nirvana films, equate a fond memory or certain nostalgia of ours to some pernickety product and manipulate us emotionally, we get that rush to the head (juice through the pipe) and we keep pressing that remote (pulling that lever) till we get more and more and more.

What does messing your sister’s hair when you were a kid got to do with concentrated nimbu paani (lemonade) in a plastic bottle? What does saving your friend a seat in the auditorium or a cute dog got to do with you recharging your phone? Why does talking on the phone define the quality of your friendship and when did your parents start behaving like children at the dining table just cause you opened a bottle of Coke?

Deodorant Ads aimed at the average sexless, repressed, more than once rejected, chump. From one side they feed you stories of love and from the other side they show you ways to fill that void. Only catch is, you need to ‘buy’ that experience. Wake up. You are being desensitized and re-programmed like a chimp.They’re toying with you and you’re happy letting them because you think, to resist, would mean making life complicated. Check the definition of ‘complicated’ and see if it includes being misled, taken for granted or made a fool of.

And isn’t this ‘Instagram looking moody-happy sunshiny’ shit getting old? Enough with the ‘little colored blurbs in the background, the slow motion shots, the sun’s glare in my face, the one hundred percent life happens all the time when the sun is setting’ bullshit.

Are we really going to accept this as an aesthetic?

Really? That’s what our generation is striving to give to the arts. The Instagram Look and semi-plagiarized, quasi jingles that rhyme cute words?

Funky. I can’t begin to describe the extent to which, in India especially, that word is misused.

Just like when TV shows take stuff like shoes, dresses, gowns, jewellery, bags, brands and music to make statements about life and people just to make you believe that this equals to that?

Cristian Mungiu

Why? So that you get sucked in even more because they get you to connect with those people on television by highlighting common every day situations and expanding on them in the most inane manner possible while they get air time, fame, money and ad revenue? And you? What do you get? Some form of relevancy and closure to events happening in your own life? I am not alone. There are others just like me. Really? A planet of 7 billion exhibiting similarities is jaw-dropping and inspirational? The extent to how self-centered our existence is slowly becoming is appalling and the fact that we don’t even realize it is the highlight.

Yes, of course, thanks to all this – intensive self gratification, there is always some crap to post about, tweet about, talk about and then quote all over.

Think about it, when the time comes and your kid looks up from his geography textbook and asks you, “Dad/Mom, how do they know that Mt. Everest is 8,848 meters high” and you sit scratching your head wondering, “Yeah … how do they measure stuff like that?” – your kid will realize that – yes, it is difficult to learn something from someone you don’t respect. They will eventually stop asking you stuff and soon enough gently remind you that you’re not as smart as you think. Until one day you realize that, to them, you’re a total tool. And guess what, they wouldn’t be too wrong.

Well, don’t worry; we can always allow them access to age inappropriate episodes of Carrie, Joey, Rachel, Chuck Bass et al. Or you can just, you know, dumb the kids down so they don’t ask stuff by plunking them in front of a television set all day and from early on define books by how THICK they are. Oh, that’s a fat book. Really?

And we’ll go about doing this till, finally something actually happens and this ridiculous plane of thought we now know we exist on, disappears for good, only to be replaced by some kind of awakening of the collective consciousness. The complete obliteration of our current technology infused zeitgeist is not practical, neither is it a solution. The spirit of our times needs conscious change. You need to know what you are in. The vessel cracks, light gets out. But light also gets in.

Or do as you please. You want to be led by the nose, manipulated all your life, your sense of nostalgia fucked around with to get you to do things and buy stuff – go ahead, that’s your call. You can justify it in your head by saying, ” I don’t take life too seriously. Chill.”

You really believe that’s what all this is about? Stop reading. Leave. Don’t waste your time.

If somewhere all this has struck a chord, then that means you want a break from all that, that you want a new experience – then be a part of something like this, once in a while.

Stop them from telling you what to do, what to buy, what to drive, where and what to eat. Let them stop defining your ideas of what a happy life should be, what a wedding should look like, what you as a bride should wear or how soft your baby’s butt needs to be. Somewhere, somewhere out there – there’s more. There’s new. There’s real. Things that make us what we are all truly about.

Movies require a willing suspension of disbelief. A removal of the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’. Movies begin in that outermost edge of our existence, the borders of our soul; that is where the exchange happens. The ‘give’ and ‘take’, when we invest and share in a joint experience. For in movies, like in life, everything is connected. Not always consequentially but elementally.

Step One, let’s get the facts straight. Beyond The Hills is not an ‘art movie’. Neither is it a ‘slow movie’ or any of those silly monikers people use to refer to things they don’t approach with the right mindset. Have you ever tried preparing yourself for such kind of a movie and watching it knowing that it’s all about setting the narrative world and it’s inhabitants free by allowing them to speak and move through collision of individual shots that are meaningful and purposeful rather than three second distractions that are always out to show you something constantly yelling, “Look here, Look here, Look here while I fool you there”

Have you tried patiently taking it all in instead of fidgeting; instead of wondering – every few minutes, like some spoilt brat with the attention span and intellect of a gold fish, “What’s going to happen next? What’s going to happen next.”

It will happen. Don’t worry. Instead enjoy the ‘now’. Take it in.

Why is it that one finds it hard to appreciate movies that have a view that is askew, is it because you believe that not ‘over analyzing’ a movie means looking at it for what it is and taking what your brain tells you or what your heart makes you feel and leaving is the right way to do it? You think cinema is one’s own personal experience? Is it?

What if someone told you, cinema was a puppet show and there was someone or many-ones actually, behind the curtain, pulling the strings. Creating meaning through the play of sound and image. Would you say I am wrong?

You think all the elements that put a movie together are all circumspect and limited to your intellect or your capacity to perceive? Are you so full of yourself that you believe that beyond your understanding/ idea of enjoyment nothing exists? Are you that lazy and is your ability to expand, that limited by all your insecurities that you don’t see – that you’re being tied down by notional cinema. Cinema that plays with your mind and makes you feel your senses are at play. Sorry but that’s what porn does too. Anyway, let’s not dwell on that parallel any further; too many literal people in this world.

So what makes Beyond The Hills such an interesting watch?

It is the fact that the director Cristian Mungiu, who won the Palme d’Or for his brilliantly agonizing film ‘4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days’, takes his time to carefully immerse us in the ‘atmosphere’ of the movie.

In this case, the bleak surroundings of the monastery – which actually is treated, like a character in its self.

A sullen landscape made ripe with an almost torrid collection of antiquated, wind battered buildings nestled away deep in the vast expanse of Romania’s rolling hill range. It is an inhospitable place, with none of the modern day amenities, not even electricity and running water. The skies are perpetually gloomy and all that is below, mirrors its pathos. However, this austerity is rendered mute and captured with an eloquent eye by Oleg Mutu’s camera.

This brings to mind another much forgotten, mostly misrepresented facet of cinema – it’s half human – half machine. Despite all of it’s cyborgian features and post-human ways, cinema is controlled by augmented senses and depleted neurotransmitters; postmodern sexuality and self-conscious interaction with one’s environment.

Hence we are yet to form a consensus on what its final form and function should be. The other art forms, be it painting, sculpture, music or dance have formalized and pedantically categorized its various signs and symbols. Cinema is still open to both experimentation and interpretation. Nothing is set in stone, yet.

The Romanians have a very distinctive style of allowing ‘the setting’ to have ample time and space to play out naturally. But a style visibly different from someone like say,Bela Tarr, this director directs these scenes in a manner that is unique and truly remarkable.

There is an art to both expansion and contraction. There is an art to amalgamating the two too. Mungiu, the director, displays simple moments of subtle cinematic mastery rather than dazzling the audience with heavy handed, notional, razor sharp virtuoso sequences of powerful dialogue and elegant choreography like with the American independents and the Korean provocateurs.

One of the fundamental aspect of direction in my humble opinion is staging; what one does within and for the frame. The collisions that result from interactions within and between shots gives rise to sentient cinema. A ‘cinema’ created by the inclusion and interaction of both, elements we can see and those we cannot; a cinema of resistance. One that conceals the relevance of what is revealed at the outset, only to slowly peel away layer by layer, to take us finally to the core.

The way the action is staged in this movie is at once gripping and unsettling, even when the characters are barely moving and the camera remains still, there is always so much going on emotionally and psychologically within the frame. The scenes are delivered with a hypnotic rhythm that totally pulls you entirely into that world.

The form well handled leaves us with the most contentious albeit almost always pretentious bit. The content.

Mungiu’s careful balancing of the film’s message is definitely a highlight. Religion is condemned and flattered through many opposing characters and there’s a lot of grey area that seems to put the blame for the inevitable horrific ending, not on any one group or individual but perhaps on humanity or modern society as a whole.

However, this is not the type of film where there is an almost nauseating preoccupation with telling the audience what is happening, both in regular 24 fps and otherwise; like in recent Guy Ritchie movies which honestly are pitiful compared to his earlier works.

‘Beyond The Hills’ is more concerned with the how and why of the plot. The causalities and the natural journey that the story and its characters take to arrive at its sinister ending, that is what it is important and you will see why it is beyond captivating when finally the curtain comes down. Before that, any knowledge is harmful. Go in empty. Take in slowly.

Now, I presume you know why, not a single word about the plot has been mentioned thus far. Go and find out for yourself. Until then …


Peter Isaac Simon


  1. Vikram Bondal says:

    This doesn’t apply to just Beyond The Hills, but many other movies. People would rather watch David Dhawan’s “remake” of Chashme Buddoor than the original and I’m sure they’ll enjoy it more than the original. Why? Dhawan will pack it in with a joke a minute. The original, which looked at Delhi and its 3 protagonists so lovingly, and sucked us into their lives, and also made us long for a friend like Lallan Miyan, will be considered boring by the current crowd. Same goes for the people who considered Bol Bachchan funnier than the original Golmaal or Partner over Choti Si Baat. But, I guess, that’s the fallout of the changing times. We don’t have the patience to savor something, but we’d prefer it thrust in our face.

    Cinema used to be about seducing the viewer. Not raping him into submission. But hey, Paisa phek, tamasha dekh. 🙂


  2. Rasik says:

    Beyond the Hills is one truly fine film and marks Mingui as one of the most potent directors in the world today. I think your rant or like Vikram likes to call it ‘a wake up call’ does a fabulous job in putting things into perspective.

    Beyond The Hills was riveting cinema! ‘Atmospheric’ in its truest sense! Loved it! The framing in the film just blew me away. It showed so much watching without actually showing off. What performances! One of my most fav from 2012.

    The characters are gray, when it could have so easy and even probably convincing to have pure black and white characters. There could have quite easily been sentimentalisation. But no! Mingui doesn’t judge his characters for you and that was an exceptionally brave decision and boy has he pulled it off!

    On his being non-judgmental of his characterers, he says, “This is how you will discover that it is difficult to say who is guilty, because the people who are really guilty are not in the film. They are the people who created this kind of society, the people who created education that completely lacks the very important moral values that people should have.”

    I am looking forward to reading more such stuff from you. 🙂


  3. Rasik says:

    Also, Peter, have you seen the Chilean film No? I was hoping that one beat Amour to the Oscars. 🙂


  4. Salil says:

    Globber Garbles, blistering barnacles, thundering typhoons, Blah Blah Blah, Blah Blah Blah… 😀

    To appreciate a film, you wrote *that* a prelude….. Bwhahahahahaha 😀

    Sorry, I like the fact that you take up this issue, and you truly love the film, and you want people to take art a bit more seriously….

    (“The iconic”) but, the kind of expression you’ve built up makes it even more tough to take it seriously… It’s like a yoga teacher orating lessons on stage…

    “Breathe in, and thou shall freeth from thy apprehension that stoppeth thee from your own ability to fight thy evil expanding thy energy beyond the magnitudeth of thy universe” 😀 😀


  5. Uddhav says:

    You really have some good observations and sound knowledge. And you have a good amount of anger which surely gives your writing a nice rhythm. But could you please focus better next time? From the height of Mount Everest to Nirvana films’ brilliant commercials, you lose the thread way too many times. And, yes, I know it’s a rant, but come on dude, cramming every single observation here only makes your anger lose its edge.


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