After exploring the horrors of the final days of the Nicolae Ceaușescu era where women’s reproductive rights were stripped away in his 2007 masterpiece 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu allocates more social commentary on Romania’s social milieu with R.M.N, an emotionally charged and artfully crafted blast at Romania’s current xenophobia that is obvious in its attempt to draw parallels with other parts of the world where fear of immigrants appears to be on the rise. Mungui’s latest film is one of his most thoughtful films—about community, compassion, mob rule, and ethnocentrism. The way Mungiu explores this film, as always, is unsettling and unnerving. Shot with a naturalistic cast in a rural Romanian town, the town feels all too familiar to any small rural town in Europe or North America, in a story of how a community must grapple with drastic changes.
An urgent plight for the need for empathy over fascism, Mungiu is certainly inspired by the growing amount of nationalism impacting many nations morals, which is even leading to radicalism and a disdain for democracy, as in the Romanian village just outside Transylvania that feels like a modern continuation of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. The film also feels like a condemnation of our current Trumpian times. If that’s the case, to call this film universal in theme is an understatement, and there is no escaping that Mungiu dives deeper than just making a polemic or even a political allegory, but the entire point is that Mungiu is exploring humankind and the uncomfortable truths of human behavior. He accurately and boldly explores how it’s in our tragic human nature to self-destruct into hatred and ignorance.
Sadly, there are always opportunist demagogues just waiting to blame a group of other people for hardships. They know they can rise to power by relinquishing fears and hysteria among their citizens, as despotism cheats out democracy and unity. This is what leads to the heated discourse in R.M.M., which abbreviates a Romanian acronym for nuclear magnetic resonance and explores the human mind, and Mungui is certainly using a cinematic brain scan to explore how prejudices impact our minds into being fearful, reactionary, and irrational beings. This is, in short, a magnum opus that is not only directed towards his own nation, Romania, but to humankind and the vile racist mind state as well.
Courtesy of IFC Films
Surrounded by wintry forestry and mountains, the setting of the village is a cross between ethnic Hungarians and German-speaking Romanians who have co-existed for the last 50 years. The film opens with the film’s protagonist, Matthias (Marin Giigore), a rough-around-the-edges slaughterhouse worker who ends up abandoning his job after assaulting his racist supervisor after Matthias was called a “lazy gipsy.” Matthias returns to his hometown, where he is detached from his wife Ana (Marcrina Barladeanu) and his young son Rudi (Mark Bienyesi). During the late hours, Matthias goes out drinking and gravitates back to the home of his former mistress, Cicilia (Judith State), who is a Hungarian manager at a local bread factory. Cicilia is unmoved by and also detached from Matthias, who continues to be persistent as he observes her play Yumeji’s Theme over and over with her cello. Who would have known Shigeru Umebayashi’s iconic film score from the 1991 Japanese film Yumeji, which would later go on to play in Wong Kar-Wai’s 2000 masterpiece In the Mood for Love, would bloom with such vigor in a Romanian film 20 plus years later? Cicilia ends up drawing a line, and she holds a lot of regrets about having had past affairs with him, considering he was married to Ana and he isn’t the most candid about his marital status. Regardless, Matthias attempts to get a job at the hi-tech baker but turns it down due to low wages.
With a very high demand for bread sold at an inexpensive price for the villagers, not many local villagers responded to the job ad. Cesilia ends up hiring some immigrants from Sri Lanka to help with the bread. Meanwhile, bigotry begins to ferment once the townspeople and the local church take their fears and anxieties out on the immigrants, who are in fact documented and pay taxes. It doesn’t matter to the hateful townspeople, their minds are already made up, and they claim their jobs are being “stolen”—even after the locals didn’t respond to the job ads. As tensions escalate in the town, Matthia’s unwell father becomes more fragile and sicker, and he has had to get an MRI scan (R.M.N in Romania) to determine his father’s mental disorders and depression.
Courtesy IFC Films
Meanwhile, Matthias must also deal with his young son’s own mental decline; he’s become speechless after experiencing some sort of tragedy in the woods. It’s the same woods Matthius would take him to go hunting for animals with cruel animal traps, and he trains young Rudi at a young age how to aim and shoot a rifle. It’s clear that Mungiu is pointing out how grating masculine traits are ingrained in us, even at a young age, which is like how we prepare young boys to combat the anxieties of the modern world that create fear and hostility. It is left ambiguous what exactly caused Rudi’s speechlness, , but this leads to Matthias becoming more fearful and irrational himself where he finds himself taking his rifle everywhere he goes. He begins to think everyone in the outside world is an enemy, and the town collapses more into fear, despotism, and eventually mob rule. In one of the film’s most harrowing scenes, that makes pro-Trump town halls and rallies seem quaint by comparison. The scene is quite terrifying in just how Mungiu expertly directs the scene and stages the action of his characters, whose open bigotry and racial paranoias come into fruition once they openly fully opine. All is one unbroken static shot.
Mungiu also scrutinizes the facade of neoliberalism. Especially with Cicilia’s boss, Mrs. Dénes (Orsolya Moldován). At her core, she seems liberal-minded and inclusive. But under pressure from the townspeople, she caves in, putting her own self-interest over her principles. Contrary to Cicilia, who stands true to her principles, To such a degree, she receives threats from townspeople who vandalize her parents’ home and attempt to intimidate her with capirotes that resemble Klansmen, all because she is kind enough to let the immigrants stay at their house until they save up for their own place. Cecilia stays firm as she debates one angry town person after another. Each of these elements and ideas by Mungiu come together to form an undaunted work of art that is also unique, inspired, and quite luminous. The film’s final scene is quite haunting as well. The striking imagery is unforgettable and how the film closes out into the credits will forever live on in my mind.
Courtesy IFC Films
Mungiu has made some of the most impressive films to come out of Romania and even Europe in the last 15 years. He has been the inner spirit of the Romanian New Wave that started in the mid-2000s, which his films are embraced years later. His films are fearless, and he isn’t afraid to tackle issues that remain harmful to humanity and the human condition. His latest films are perhaps his most ideological, but also his most essential, even in these uncertain times where audiences just want to shut off their brains and unwind with Super Mario Bros. and Marvel to escape all the endless chaos going on socially and politically. Yet, Mingiu understands the stakes are high and that there is always a demand for his films from an sophisticated audience that will appreciate and understand the importance of having such vital filmmaking like Mingiu’s at our fingertips.
With that, Mungiu’s storytelling is more combative and bleaker than it has been before. Even 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days offered some empathy and shimmers of hope. Nevertheless, this is a highly thought-provoking film with many dense and essential themes, and it showcases the best and worst of human behavior and of the human psyche; Mungiu is quite forthright in his uncompressing vision. As we live in very alarming times of incendiary rhetoric, and alarming absolutism, it is refreshing to still have brave artists like Cristian Mungiu tackling on the brutal truths and current dysfunction in Europe that is still light years away from this liberal utopia that we think of it being.
R.M.N. Opens in limited theaters Friday, April 28th.