Film Review: R.M.N

Words: Tomas Babicki
Monday 25 September 2023
reading time: min, words

Cristian Mungiu is back with another slice of bleak Romanian social realism...


Director: Cristian Mungiu
Starring: Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Bârlădeanu
Running time: 125 minutes

After losing his job in a German slaughterhouse, Matthias (Marin Grigore, in what will likely prove to be a career-defining role) returns to his home in a remote Transylvanian village where he must manage an ailing father, an extra-marital affair, and what he perceives as the emasculation of his young son during his absence. Meanwhile, tensions build among the population of Romanian, Hungarian and German villagers when three Sri Lankan workers are recruited at a local industrial bakery. 

R. M. N joins the growing trend of European films concerned with the cultural clashes resulting from 21st century diaspora and globalisation. Through a typically Romanian social realist lens, writer-director Cristian Mungiu explores the borderline tribal mindset of many isolated European communities, the likes of which was exposed most memorably in Valeska Grisebach’s Western, an understated dissection of masculine fragility and mutual xenophobia. In a similar fashion to the beautifully composed Godland which released earlier this year: Mungiu also extracts the subtle drama that comes from multi-lingual dialogues. These permutations of language are perhaps the key to unlocking the core message of R. M. N, whose subtitles are helpfully colour-coded depending on which language is being spoken.

Matthias, whose macho façade scarcely drops for the duration of the film’s runtime, serves as an unlikely vessel through the simmering conflict unfolding in the village. His indiscriminate flip-flopping between indifference and the bigoted village hive-mind characterises the contradictory rhetoric of the community that all too explicitly prides itself on having “only just gotten rid of the Gypsies”.

[Cristian] Mungiu subtly mounts a palpable anxiety which is permeated by brief, and almost cathartic bursts of drama

The purposefully muddled focus on Matthias’ personal plights – all of which he approaches strikingly coldly – and the unravelling situation in the village serves to redouble the irreconcilable complexity of the relationship between the inner world of the individual (in this case, an individual likely raised in the wake of the Romanian revolution) and the broader multiculturalism of modern Europe. His ignorance is perhaps best personified in the way he studies his father’s M.R.I scans (‘R.M.N’ the Romanian equivalent of ‘M.R.I’), as though he has any inkling of what the monochromatic blobs would suggest. 

As with his harrowing Palme d’Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, about a woman seeking an abortion in pre-revolution Romania, Mungiu subtly mounts a palpable anxiety which is permeated by brief, and almost cathartic bursts of drama. The film’s standout sequence however, in one of the bolder long-takes in recent memory, is undoubtedly the immaculately blocked town hall meeting called to discuss the Sri Lankan ‘invasion’ (phrasing which highlights the town's vitriolic attitude towards the migrants), which plays out in its entirety.

R. M. N decidedly embodies the matter-of-fact essence of the Romanian New Wave, but also urges it towards the concerns of a generation now far removed from the revolution of 1989, and in turn Mungiu has forcefully restated his position as a key figurehead of the movement. 

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