‘RMN’ Review: A desperate vision of a society wracked by bigotry

The title is ultimately not a code for “Romania”. But if it were, it would be appropriate: the vast, disturbing, complicatedly pessimistic “RMN” from director Cristian Mungiu, arguably Romania’s pre-eminent New Wave filmmaker, is little less than a stripped-down state of the nation, a microcosmic analogy for a whole broken society cooked up by its softening vowels, in which only the harder elements – the bigotry, the betrayal and a surprising number of bears – remain.

Laid out in discrete scenes of astonishing clarity and density, with the rigor of their construction belied by the spontaneity of their presentation, the connections between the different strands are difficult to discern at first. Rudi (Mark Blenyesi), a young boy going to school, stumbles upon a sight in the woods that doesn’t appear on screen, but terrifies him so much that he runs home and stops speaking. Matthias (Marin Grigore), a worker in a German slaughterhouse, responds to a racist slur with startling instantaneous violence and flees into the night. Csilla (Judith State), who runs a small bread factory, discusses with her boss the difficulties of hiring local bakers for the minimum wage they are offering.

One is tempted to associate this fragmentary approach – incidentally a departure from the single-minded narrative dynamic of Mungius Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” and his Cannes Best Director award “Graduation” – with the building compare a mosaic. But that would mean the film’s story is a convergence story where the parts will eventually settle down to reveal a great unified design where the trajectory is actually the opposite. “RMN” is a slow-motion snapshot of a deeply divided community, flying apart in all directions, as if a bomb detonated years, if not centuries, ago never stopped exploding.

We learn that Matthias is Rudi’s father and Csilla’s former lover. Hitchhiking back to his outwardly rural Transylvanian hometown, he demands his estranged wife Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu) have access to his son. His sheep farmer father Papa Otto (Andrei Finți) – maybe just a father figure as it’s not clear if they are actually related – is ill, and soon Matthias has to take him to the hospital for a brain scan called RMN. Meanwhile, Csilla, with whom Matthias rekindles his old romance, has to fill five additional positions at the bakery to qualify for an EU grant and hires migrant workers from Sri Lanka who are willing to work for the salary work that locals can get better paid jobs abroad are not accepted. The arrival of the two men, and then a third, unleashes a wave of racial outrage in the small town, bringing ugly feelings to the surface of this pretty but increasingly sinister place.

This barely scratches the surface of the problems posed by Mungius’ intimidatingly intelligent, occasionally opaque script. Most evident is the fact that the community was fractured long before the arrival of the foreigners, and uncomfortable religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural tensions that must not interfere with daily coexistence require the slightest touch to unfold across the surface. Matthias comes from a Roma background, which is mentioned in a pejorative manner several times, although any victim status he might claim is dictated by his sexism, his contempt for Ana and the way he shows his love for his traumatized son through survival training and harsh sermons communicated, is undermined like, “You must not feel pity. Pity dies first, I want you to die last.”

By far the most likeable character is Csilla, played captivatingly by State. Like a significant minority in these areas, she is ethnic Hungarian and speaks Hungarian when not communicating with Sri Lankan workers in English or translating the code to Romanian when the occasion calls for it. (English subtitles are color-coded according to the translated language.) One scene takes place during a German-language Lutheran service, but the city also has Catholic and Orthodox congregations. Csilla’s refined lifestyle — she spends her evenings in her beautifully renovated home learning to play the theme “In the Mood For Love” on her cello — also indicates a level of privilege and higher education denied to her by the majority of the populace .

Sri Lankans aren’t the only misfits: a French researcher is in town to monitor the forest’s bear population. He, too, is a target for community ire as a representative of the ecological conservation movement that forced the closure of polluting mines nearby, losing many local jobs and contributing to the problem of economic exodus. That in turn has encouraged a resurgent nationalism, manifested in celebrations and parades where devotees dress in bearskins and helmets and pledge their allegiance to Dacia – an ancient regional tribe prized for their resistance to the Romans and recently claimed as a symbol became some right-wing factions.

This is a complex film, so full of ideas that one might expect aesthetics to be of less importance, but RMN is almost absurdly handsome. Tudor Panduru’s photography makes excellent use of an extreme widescreen aspect ratio of 2:39, which obviously flatters the starkly beautiful Transylvanian landscapes, but would be extravagant for the more talkative interiors if they weren’t laid out with such precise choreography, framing and attention to the background storyline. In fact, one feels that Mungius’ desire to demonstrate all sides of each argument simultaneously would rotate 360 ​​degrees if the option were available. And during the film’s stunning centerpiece – a 17-minute uninterrupted shot of a crowded, troubled town hall meeting with multiple speakers and multiple layers of action happening simultaneously – it achieves almost equivalent wrap-around effect.

Papa Otto’s scans appear on Matthias’ cell phone and he scrolls through them, examining the proliferating growth in the old man’s brain bit by bit. It’s a simple metaphor for Mungius’ approach with “RMN”, which is essentially a laser-assisted analysis of the ailing Romanian social organ, in which we can see the cancer of intolerance and injustice spreading layer by layer. It’s not an operation. Mungiu doesn’t intervene and he doesn’t judge. He despairs though – never more than at a boldly ambiguous finale that lends itself to about seven different interpretations, none perfect but all intriguing. Perhaps the simplest reading of this semi-surreal Ursine ending – which suggests that even Cristian Mungius’ astonishingly lucid realism may not suffice to explain the bleakness and brokenness of the world at the moment – is that the era of human societal structures passed. Maybe it’s time for the so-called civilization to take off, pursued by a bear.

https://variety.com/2022/film/reviews/r-m-n-review-cristian-mungius-nightmarish-naturalism-detonates-a-scabrous-social-division-drama-1235274123/ ‘RMN’ Review: A desperate vision of a society wracked by bigotry

Charles Jones

Charles Jones is a 24ssports U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Charles Jones joined 24ssports in 2021 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing: charlesjones@24ssports.com.

Related Articles

Back to top button