Cristian Mungiu Demonstrates That Racism Is Universal In R.M.N. [Cannes Review]

CANNES – We are living in yet another era of European history where old battles over the borders of nation-states are being disputed. Russia has invaded the sovereign nation of Ukraine after already annexing the province of Crimea less than a decade ago. There is concern the battle over Brexit could spark violence over a potential hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. In many ways, the growth of the European Union has helped to ease and spark some of these conflicts. It’s somewhat timely then that Cristian Mungiu’s “R.M.N.” has debuted at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.

READ MORE: Tilda Swinton and George Miller’s five-year journey to “Three Thousand Years of Longing’ [Cannes]

Mungiu’s latest endeavor takes place in an unnamed village in the Transylvania area of Romania. A community filled with the descendants of German, Hungarian and Romanian peoples. And, despite Romania’s integration into the E.U., it’s a town not comfortable with the arrival of strangers. And, to be fair, there is more of a focus on their ethnic backgrounds than their status as Romanian citizens. The film begins, however, with the arrival of Matthias (Marin Grigore), a sheep farmer who has returned home after working abroad in Germany. His 8-year-old son is afraid of walking to school through the forest alone, and he considers such passiveness an “emergency” that needs his attention. His wife, Anna (Macrina Bârlădeanu), is a more supportive parent letting him sleep in her bed and teaching him to crochet, a skill Matthias thinks will make him a “sissy.” It’s abundantly clear there is no love lost between the two and that’s because Matthias is obsessed with a former love, Csilla (Judith State).

For Western audiences, it’s hard not to identify with Csilla the most. She’s a divorced, single woman whose career is paramount and she’s used her success to refurbish her parents’ home in a decidedly comfortable, but upscale manner. Her focus is her position as the boss of a female-owned Bread Factory which is hoping to expand its operations if it can land an E.U. grant. In order to do so, however, they need to employ more workers and, unfortunately, cannot convince enough locals to sign up for what is effectively a minimum wage position. When Csilla and the owner hire three Sri Lankan workers with the help of a broker, the town’s intolerance for outsiders quickly come to the surface.

“R.M.N.” stands for “rezonanta magnetica nucleara,” or the English translation, nuclear magnetic resonance. A means to scan the brain looking for things below the surface. It’s a metaphor played out with the health of Matthias’ father, whose well-being begins to falter as the village’s racist-fueled anger over the new workers’ presence begins to fester. These seemingly everyday residents use the church and, eventually, violent means to make their wishes known. It’s a xenophobic snapshot of fear and ignorance seen in all corners of the globe, and, sadly, that’s what makes Mungiu’s work so depressingly relatable.

Best known for the Palme d’Or winning “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” Mungiu makes some artistic decisions with “R.M.N.” that sometimes hinder his narrative. Specifically, he crafts a number of extremely long static shots that work to varying degrees while often testing the audience’s patience. Seemingly a mistake when you’re attempting to convey a truly universal story. Yes, the increasingly vile comments during a village meeting turn into a virtual painting of hate (a “doctor” espousing conspiracy theories over Asian genetics is truly something), but they also provide an unexpected emotional dissonance to the proceedings.

While State is fantastic as Csilla, Grigore is almost puzzlingly statuesque in his portrayal of Mattias. It’s a head-scratching performance for a character that should be more than a cipher for the events surrounding him. Overall, the village ensemble is memorable enough to overcome his casting and, as you can guess, for the most disheartening of reasons.

The power of Mungiu’s work is his writing. Like much of Eastern European cinema of the past decade, he’s crafted a morality tale that should prompt a viewer to take a look at themselves in the mirror wherever they may live. And if it ends without any hint of resolution? With barely a glimmer of hope? So be it. [B]

Follow along with all our coverage from the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.