"Beyond the Hills"
"Beyond the Hills"

Why They're On Our Radar: Many heads were turned following the announcement of last May's Cannes Film Festival winner for Best Actress where, despite the long list of veteran and established actresses many felt certain would take the prize, the award went to not one, but two actresses who have never before appeared in a film. Cosmina Stratan was working as a TV and print journalist when she came under consideration for one of the leads in Cristian Mungiu's new film "Beyond the Hills," while Cristina Flutur worked as a classical theater actress. Neither worked in film before and suddenly their lives have turned into a whirlwind of press, news, and awards.

There was no doubt much anticipation for Mungiu's return to Cannes, as his last trip in 2007 for abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days" famously cemented Romanian's emergence as a major player in contemporary world cinema by taking home a Palme d'Or, but the haunting film may possibly become even more infamous as the launching point for two highly gifted talents.

Based on a true event, "Beyond the Hills" centers around a visit by Alina (Flutur) to an isolated monastery to visit her friend, the nun Voichita (Stratan). While the two have a long history living in the orphanage, Alina is struck by the difference in her friends demeanor, attitude, and worldview, believing that much of it has to do with the solemn tutelage of the head priest, dubbed "Papa." Things get more complicated when Papa and the nuns believe Alina is struck by the Devil, and take it in their power to try to exorcise this demonic possession from her and help her attain a life of religious harmony. The film is an incredibly engrossing and powerfully realistic experience, stretching the boundaries of the typical narrative with sequences that have the look and feel of a great and dense novel.

Indiewire was lucky for the chance to sit down with Stratan and Flutur last December to discuss their journey since the Cannes win, their backgrounds and how they shaped their work in this film, and their hopes for the future of their careers. "Beyond the Hills" is currently playing in limited release.

Staring off, I’m sure you’ve both heard it all before, but congratulations on the awards and the press. Clearly this phase of the film began in May, and now it’s December and you’re still out doing the rounds-Cannes, Toronto, New York, etc, and the Romanian release was only last month, and a U.S. release is still a few months away in March, so there is still a lot more traveling and speaking to be done. This being different than what you are both used to, how has this whirlwind of a year been? What’s changed, what has been elating, or irritating?

Cristina: Everything got a bit crazy, and the rhythm of my life has quite changed. I’ve met many people, and I talk a lot. I got the impression that I have talked. . . I haven’t talked so much in years, because I have been in the theater only, about seven years in theater. Theater, for me, is more intimate and more discreet. You don’t get to be interviewed that much, you don’t go to radio or TV, so there is not so much media around you. It’s more quiet, even though you do have good performances and good leads and good roles. Going to the other side, to film, is more noisy, but its also interesting because you get to talk to many people about the work and see many new places. I also like the Q&A’s, because you get to meet the audience and feel how they react. I like to sit a bit at the beginning of the movie and hear reactions, actually hear what they like and don’t like.

Cosmina: I didn’t make it to Toronto because I broke my leg! But aside from that, it is great because of the people and places, and we wouldn’t have had the chance to do that if we didn’t. In a way, the movie is not over because we really discover new things while talking about it and  trying to put into words what we did on the set, and we are a bit happy that we are still in the “Beyond the Hills” session. After we received the prize, I was obviously very happy, but I wanted to understand what I did in order to get there. I think the best way of dealing with this prize is to leave it behind, and it helps that I had good parents who taught me to do so. I think you really have to keep your insecurity and not be sure that you can do anything and solve every situation and play every character, because this is not the way of finding things. I just tried, not to forget about it, but to leave it behind and try to find out how to get deep into a character another time. From that level, the prize doesn’t matter. I was just a bit shocked, and really wanted to know what exactly happened.

How did you come to the attention of Cristian?

Cristina: He saw a photo on the internet. I don’t know if it was a photo from my theater or not. I believe it was a photo that a casting director took some time ago, some few years ago. He showed me, “This is the picture,” and I said “I believe you!” So he saw this picture and said he wanted to meet this girl, to see her. This I found out from interviews, because I didn’t ask him. I don't ask these kinds of questions. He has his own privacy also! I was too happy that he picked me to be curious about anything else. He wanted to see me because he thought I had something “in the eyes” that he wanted for the character, so he told me.

Cosmina: He didn’t want me at first.

"Beyond the Hills."
"Beyond the Hills."

Oh no!

Cosmina: I found out during an interview that during the casting period he saw some pictures and pointed to the ones he wanted, “I want this one, I want this one.” When the casting director showed him my picture he looked at it and went “No. . .no, she’s not a nun. She can’t do that. She is not the face I’m looking for.” I am so grateful to Catalin Dordea, who is the casting director, who said “If you don’t want to see her, let me see her just one time, to record one scene with hr and if you like her call her and if you don’t, don’t.” So I met Catalin, and they gave me a part of the script, just one or two scenes, but I did not know at the time that it was a Cristian Mungiu movie, I thought that it was a Romanian movie. I did not know who the director was.

Is there a difference between the two?

Cosmina: Huge! So I thought it was a good scene and I really loved the script. So I did tht, and then a month later I got the call. We then had about a month of auditioning, and later I found out that the one month audition was more like a rehearsal. I found out that he decided to pick us but he wanted to be sure, so we read ALL the scenes in the script. After the month, I went “Why didn’t you just tell us you picked us!?”