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Romania's Oscar entry 'Beyond the Hills' director on following up '4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days'

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As part of an early look at next year’s Oscars, Prize Fighter — in an ongoing series — is highlighting several of the directors and official entries submitted by a whopping 71 countries competing for the Academy Award for best foreign language film.

Five years after his 2007 critically acclaimed beautiful and brutal feature about illegal abortion, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, failed to snag an Oscar nomination, prompting controversy, director Cristian Mungiu is back with another stark, hyper-realistic drama: Romania’s official 2013 foreign film Oscar entry Beyond the Hills.

“In a very strange way, 4 Months‘ failure to be nominated in 2007 brought us a lot of notoriety,” Mungiu told EW recently by email. “What we learned from that experience is that the cinema that we do might be very appreciated by the press and festivals, but it won’t necessarily be the kind of cinema appreciated by the voters for the foreign Oscar. This is not ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ It is just a fact. Once you understand this, you are going to be more relaxed about the results.”

Beyond the Hills, like 4 Months, touches on dark, depressing, difficult subject matter, telling the story of 25-year-old Alina (Cristina Flutur), who reunites with her childhood friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan), now a fledgling nun in a sparse Orthodox convent in Romania. Flutur’s Alina, similar to the women in 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, is complex and emotional, prone to outbursts and intensity. In other words, she’s human.
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Cannes: 'Beyond the Hills' wants to be the art-house 'Exorcist.' Plus, Tom Hardy in 'Lawless'

At Cannes, the fabled Palme d’Or isn’t like any other Best Picture award. Unlike, say, the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, or even the Oscar, it is conferred with a reverence that says: This film is a work of art — and the person who made it has been ushered into the pantheon. He (or she) is now one of the initiated, recognized in the shimmering galaxy of the international film world to be a major artist, a saint of the cinema, a wearer of the supreme auteur merit badge. There have been 65 Palme d’Or winners (the award was launched in 1955, and in eight different years it’s gone to two films), and I would argue that it has only grown, during that time, in status and meaning. The very first Palme d’Or went, believe it or not, to Marty, that sweet little Hollywood ordinary-Joe romance with Ernest Borgnine. In the early years, plenty of fabled filmmakers (like Jean-Luc Godard, arguably the most important European director of the ’60s) never won a Palme d’Or. Back then, however, they didn’t need it. The presence of art films in the culture was transcendent on its own. In our era, the kind of movies that win the Palme d’Or mostly exist on a different island from mainstream taste. And so, paradoxically, even as the films seem smaller, the award looms larger. It’s now a major part of the cultural scaffolding propping up the notion that art in cinema thrives, and that there’s a potent continuity to it — from Fellini to Lars von Trier, from Taxi Driver to Pulp Fiction, from Andrei Tarkovsky to Abbas Kiarostami. READ FULL STORY

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