Bearing Witness: The Sight of a Sacrifice in Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills

  • Author(s): Megan Girdwood
  • When: 2016-10
  • Where: Journal of Religion & Film
  • Drawing on the theories of sacrifice advanced by Sigmund Freud (1913) and René Girard (1972; 1982), this article interprets the exorcism depicted by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu in Beyond the Hills (2012) as a sacrifice. Explicating Girard’s defence of Freud, I use his framing of sacrifice as a function of religion to reassess scholarship addressing the parallels between liturgical and cinematic forms of representation. If, as some scholars propose, the practices of the cinema-goer and the worshipper mirror each other, then the sacrificial witness portrayed by Mungiu constitutes a third pillar in this discourse. I argue that Mungiu dramatizes the act of bearing witness via a visual rhetoric that mimes particular elements of a sacrifice, notably the ritualised violence that leads to the persecution of the scapegoat. As such, his cinematic composition forces the viewer into the position of the witness, raising uneasy questions regarding the relationship between spectatorship and culpability.

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