From a technical standpoint, one thing that stands out in the film, the same with “4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days,” are the long takes which are very engrossing. Some of them are quite simple dialogue shots, which are challenging in their own way, but a few of them are quite complex- such as the sequence where they tie Cristina down, or the “exorcism.” They move from character to character, sometimes from room to room, and there is a rapid fire dialogue. Were those heavily rehearsed and planned, or was it mostly you and the other actors guiding the camera and action?

Cristina: We didn’t have much time to rehearse. We kind of used the auditions to find out about the scripts and to find out what he wanted to do about characters. But personally, I didn’t walk much with him, he talked much more with Cosmina. He was trying to feel the actor and feel what he needs and what his methods are, and how they could adapt to his way of working. I didn’t feel the need to ask and analyze. I just wanted to let my intuition and my instinct flow, and he was the same, so I felt “Wow, that’s my kind of director!”

Cosmina: What was great about Cristian is that he really worked the scenes differently. I was in every scene so I really saw him working. There were some scenes where I just respected the move we rehearsed, exactly the way we rehearsed, and I tried to give life to that. There were some scenes where we could change the text a little and improvise, and there were some scenes where we could let ourselves go in an instinct totally different from what we’d established. So it was very flexible with this, and he let us know that he accepted, or at least let me know, that if I felt something new during the shooting and it was really strong than I could just go with the flow.

"Beyond The Hills"
"Beyond The Hills"
Did you do some of these scenes several times?

Cosmina: There were two scenes that were really changed because of this. Everything was planned except two. And we really had a very good cameraman because he used to say that “If it’s alive, I’m gonna shoot it. If it’s not, go home.”

Did you find those aesthetics liberating in that case, as an actress?

Cosmina: I felt they were actually quite right, because I had the same standards. He waited for me to get there, and when a scene was good all three of us knew-Cristian, Oleg (the cameraman) and myself. We all had the same opinion if a take was good, and not all the good takes are in the movie. And there’s more, about thirty or forty minutes that aren’t in the movie.

Cristina, did you find some of those sequences, and this method of shooting, easier because of your theatrical background?

Cristina: This is my first movie, so I have never done anything differently and don’t know what it is like to work in a different way. But it helped, because you have the time to allow the emotion to full you up and to allow the tension to grow. I also feel that it was not only beneficial for the actors, but for the audience as well. The audience has this time to get connected to the story. You can really enter the screen this way better than if you were to cut.

Cristian stated in an interview that he wanted the film to feel like a “novel on screen,” so he litters the film with insignificant details in addition to the important ones. This feels like a very true statement in regards to both of your performances, but especially Cosmina’s, who is in every scene in some shape or form. Even when you aren’t the focus of the scene, you are still in the frame-cleaning, putting things away. Your eyes are often wide when other characters talk, observing them. Were those moments or details instructed/scripted, of was it more of an acting instinct to keep yourself busy around the action constantly?

Cosmina: I look at it in a little different way. After I knew I was going to be a part of the project, I met with Cristian about a week later and he said very happily, “I changed the script!” He was so happy that he decided what to do with the movie. I said, “What’s changed? The story?” “No! I changed the point of view.” And he told me that he did not want to make a real objective story, but he wants to bring up what my character understands from that story. So this is the explanation of why my character is in every scene, even though she isn’t involved with every scene. But she’s there, and she tries to understand what’s happening. It’s like her everyday life. So I didn’t search for actions to do in every scene. I just though, “OK, this is happening to me and I am here. What should I do here?” I just tried to react naturally, because the ideal situation for an actor is to understand who they are at this moment. If you can understand that than the text doesn’t matter because you are the character and everything can happen. You have to react normally, which is easier if you know who you are. And I thought I knew who I was until the middle of the movie when everything became confusing for me, because I just could not understand the way she does not react. When I first read the script, I thought both of these girls were so similar in a way. They have different education, different social levels, but in a way her heart. . . I could understand her heart. But after one month, I went “Oh my god, who is she?” I really wanted not to pretend to understand, but really understand, what she is thinking, what she is feeling. She’s not feeling? She doesn’t react, so she doesn’t feel? Of course she feels, she just doesn’t TRUST her feelings. Which is a bit controversial because she doesn’t trust herself, she doesn’t act, but in a way what she wants is exactly what happens.

Beyond the Hills Still
Sundance Selects
It absolutely shows too, especially at the end. There’s that amazing sequence where the police come into the monastery to investigate what is happening. . .

Cosmina: That’s the best!

Yes, it’s very effective. You’re there in the white, everyone is wearing black, you stick out, eyes wide open. It’s a great moment because it once again has you observing and being visually present in a sequence where you are not the focal point of the dialogue.

Cosmina: I was very worried about my character, that she could appear very similar and without any spectacular changes from beginning to end. That’s a bit frustrating for an actor, maybe because of the ego we all have. You want your character to be as normal as you can, and this is really hard. That scene with the police, I was just thinking “What should I do in that scene?” My character is really inside herself, really suffering about the situation, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I felt I had to do something really different, and I was very lucky that Cristian had the same opinion. For her, it’s not really blank, but a really rational way of recovering all the facts that took place, but it’s not suffering anymore because she’d been through it. She cannot suffer anymore.