Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Producer: Cristian Mungiu
Screenwriter: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Cosmina Stratan as Voichita, Cristina Flutur as Alina, Valeriu Andriuta as Priest, Dana Tapalaga as Mother superior, Catalina Harabagiu as Antonia, Gina Tandura as nun Iustina, Vica Agache as nun Elisabeta, Luminita Gheorghiu as Schoolteacher
With this viscerally involving drama, acclaimed Romanian filmmaker Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days) tells another strikingly original story of women caught between old and new world beliefs. And what makes the film so striking is Mungiu's ability to let us identify so closely with people with whom we have nothing in common on the surface.
Far outside the nearest town, an isolated convent tries to maintain life as it would have been lived centuries earlier: there's no electricity and water comes from a well, but the orthodox priest (Andriuta), mother superior (Tapalaga) and nuns all get on with their daily chores. Then one nun, Voichita (Stratan), has a visit from Alina (Flutur), who grew with her in the town orphanage but moved to Germany after they turned 18. Alina is shocked by Voichita's superstition-ruled life in the convent and wants her to come back to Germany with her. But the other nuns think that Alina's mood swings are a sign of demonic possession.
The film is so realistically shot and acted that we feel like we're right there in the muddy convent with them all, shivering at the chill as winter closes in. Their priorities might be simplicity and spirituality, but with their isolationistic worldview, the nuns are also terrified of anything new and different, resorting to ancient rituals that sometimes make this feel like a horror movie. The actors play all of this in a way that's raw and often unnervingly earthy.
Intriguingly, this isn't just a film about the clash between old-world faith and modern-day ideas. It's much more complicated than that, exploring social issues like underfunded health care and the legacy of child abuse. And of course the perilous actions of a group facing someone they see as a dangerous interloper. Indeed, this is bold, challenging filmmaking that's sometimes indulgent (the middle section feels repetitive and over-long) and often a bit too provocative. But the final act is intensely dramatic and deeply disturbing. And there aren't many films that so effectively take us away from our world, then return us with a lot to think about.