Inspired by a true story detailed in a pair of nonfiction novels by Romanian journalist Tatiana Niculescu Bran, Cristian Mungiu’s Beyond the Hills is a powerful, emotional study of love, friendship, dedication, devotion, and sexual repression. In a barren section of modern-day Romania, Alina (Cristina Flutur) arrives at a poverty-stricken Orthodox monastery, where her childhood friend Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) has become a nun. Both young women grew up in a poor orphanage, and both still have no real place in society. Alina has come to try to convince Voichita — possibly her former lover — to leave the flock and go with her to Germany, where they can live and work together freely. Early on, Voichita rubs a tired Alina’s bare back; when Alina turns over, Voichita just stops short of massaging her friend’s chest, the sexual tension nearly exploding in a scene of quiet beauty that speaks volumes about their relationship. Despite Alina’s pleading, Voichita, apparently filled with deep inner guilt, refuses to turn her back on the priest (Valeriu Andriuţă), whom all the nuns refer to as Pa, and her newfound vocation. Unable to accept her friend’s decision, Alina begins acting out in threatening ways to both herself and the true believers, leading to shocking, tragic consequences. Mungiu’s feature-film follow-up to the 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days is another harrowing examination of characters trapped in a devastating situation. The two-and-a-half-hour film seems to take place in a different era, far away from contemporary towns and cities, cell phones and even electricity. Mungiu, who won the Best Screenplay award at Cannes for the film, is careful not to condemn or belittle Pa, Ma (Dana Tapalagă), and their faith, but he doesn’t praise them either, leaving it up to viewers to decide for themselves. In their feature-film debuts, Flutur and Stratan, who are both from Mungiu’s hometown of Iasi and shared the Best Actress award at Cannes, are exceptional, their eyes filled with fear and longing as Alina and Voichita try to find a balance in their opposing worlds. Beyond the Hills opens March 8 at the IFC Center and Lincoln Plaza and will be available on Sundance Selects’ On Demand channel beginning March 14.