Cristian Mungiu, who won the Palme d’Or for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (2007), the Best Screenplay award for Beyond the Hills (2012), and Best Director for Graduation (2016), returns to Cannes with R.M.N., a film that, as Jay Weissberg notes at the Film Verdict, “touches on a host of issues from impotent enraged masculinity to environmental destruction, from fear of the other to Romania’s status as a second-class EU country.”
At the end of 2019, just days before Christmas, Matthias (Marin Grigore) returns to his small town in Transylvania, where Romanians, ethnic Hungarians, and German-speakers tolerate each other’s presence to a reasonable but limited degree. Matthias has fled Germany because his answer to the boss that called him “a lazy gypsy” was a debilitating headbutt. He finds that his son, Rudi (Mark Blenyesi), has gone mute after seeing something in the woods that terrified him, and Matthias is determined to get him to man up—much to the irritation of the boy’s mother, Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu).
Matthias’s father (Andrei Finti) is in the hospital—the film’s title is an acronym for “rezonanță magnetică nucleară,” a type of brain scan—and his former lover, Csilla (Judith State), manages a bread factory. She’s looking to take on more workers to qualify for an EU grant, but the locals aren’t interested. Keeping everything legal and above board, she hires three Sri Lankans, sparking a viciously xenophobic reaction from the townspeople.
“This is a complex film,” writes Jessica Kiang in Variety, “so replete with ideas that one might expect the aesthetics to be of lesser concern, but R.M.N. is almost absurdly handsome. Tudor Panduru’s photography makes superb use of a 2.39:1 extreme-widescreen aspect ratio that obviously flatters the starkly beautiful Transylvanian landscapes, but would be extravagant for the talkier interiors, were they not laid out with such precise choreography, framing, and attention to background action.” The centerpiece of the film is a boisterous town meeting shot in a single seventeen-minute take that has left Filmmaker’s Vadim Rizov “exactly as impressed as intended.”
Slant’s Ed Gonzalez finds R.M.N. to be “almost perversely pregnant with sinister possibility, in ways that recall the work of Michael Haneke, but it also reveals an unforgiving cynicism about the world as its social-realist strains become increasingly apparent.” Toward the end, Mungiu “tips his hand and it’s difficult to shake that his eye and ear for the minutiae of life is in service of shooting fish in a barrel.” But for the Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw,R.M.N. is “an intriguing essay on a kind of crisis in the racist mindset: when and how do you suppress your dislike of one kind of people to make common cause with them against some other kind?”
IFC Films will bring R.M.N. to North America later this year, and in the meantime, Mungiu has already begun work on his next project. He tells Cannes’s Benoit Pavan that he spent lockdown going through the notes he took in the 1990s when his grandmother told him “all that she could remember about her life.” He’s written a screenplay for a feature, but “I’m now considering whether to turn it into a series instead. I think her story is unfortunately more than relevant today: in 1940, the Soviets decided to annex the province where she lived just because they could. It’s a story between duty and your desire to live.”
For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.