A cerebral melodrama of the most steely, bare and brutal kind, Beyond the Hills is the third feature from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu and his first since winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days. Alina (Cristina Flutur) and Voichita (Cosmina Stratan) are old friends who reunite over a weekend.

Alina has come back to Romania from Germany and wants Voichita to return with her. But Voichita is reluctant to leave the monastery where she lives with a dozen other women and a lone priest (Valeriu Andriuta), believing she’s found a cure for crippling loneliness: God.

Mungiu embeds us in the world of her frugal, barren monastery over a few days, with Alina’s presence forcing her to confront her beliefs. Meanwhile, her colleagues react with increasing hostility to the threat Alina poses to their way of life. Mungiu’s style of storytelling in Beyond the Hills is more elongated and less frenetic than in 4 Months. Together, the two films make fascinating companion pieces as studies of freedom or a lack of it and, on a wider level, suggest a lingering sickness and sorrow at the heart of Romanian society.

Dave Calhoun, Time Out London