‘RMN’ review: A desperate vision of a society broken by bigotry

The title is not, after all, some kind of code for “Romania”. But if that were the case, it would be appropriate: the huge, disturbing and deeply pessimistic “RMN” of director Cristian Mungiu, probably the preeminent filmmaker of the Romanian New Wave, is nothing less than a purified state of the nation, a microcosmic analogy for an entire broken society boiled dry from its softening vowels, in which only the harshest elements – fanaticisms, betrayals and a surprising number of bears – remain.

Arranged in discreet scenes of astonishing clarity and density, the rigor of their construction belied by the spontaneity of their presentation, the connections between the different threads are at first difficult to discern. Rudi (Mark Blenyesi), a little boy walking to school, comes across a sight in the woods that is being kept off-screen, but instills such terror in him that he runs home and stops talking. Matthias (Marin Grigore), a worker at a German slaughterhouse, responds to a racist slur with incredibly instantaneous violence and flees into the night. Csilla (Judith State), who runs a small bread factory, discusses with her boss the difficulties in attracting local bakers at the minimum wage they offer.

The temptation is to compare this piecemeal approach – a departure, incidentally, from the unique narrative dynamism of Mungiu, winner of the Palme d’Or “4 months, 3 weeks, 2 days” and his “Graduation” awarded by the award for best director at Cannes – building a mosaic. But that would imply that the film’s story is one of convergence, in which the pieces eventually settle to reveal a grand unifying design, where the trajectory is actually the opposite. “NMR” is a slow-motion snapshot of a deeply torn community splitting apart in all directions, as if a bomb, which went off years or maybe even centuries ago, has never stopped. explode.

Matthias, we find out, is Rudi’s father and Csilla’s former lover. He hitchhikes back to his outwardly bucolic hometown of Transylvania and demands access to his son from his estranged wife Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu). Her sheep farmer father Papa Otto (Andrei Finți) – possibly just a father figure, as it’s unclear if they’re actually related – is ill, and soon Matthias will have to take him to the hospital for a procedure. brain scan called NMR. Meanwhile Csilla, with whom Matthias is rekindling his old romance, has to work five more positions at the bakery in order to qualify for an EU grant, and turns to hiring ready-to-work migrant workers from Sri Lanka. for the salary that locals, who can get better paying jobs abroad, won’t take. The arrival of the two men, and then a third, sparks a wave of racist outrage in the small town, bringing ugly feelings to the surface of this pretty but increasingly sinister place.

It barely scratches the surface of the issues raised by Mungiu’s intimidating, clever, and sometimes opaque script. Obviously, there is the fact that the community was fractured long before the outsiders arrived, and the uneasy religious, ethnic, linguistic and cultural tensions, which may not interfere with day-to-day coexistence, require only the slightest tap to lather the surface. Matthias comes from a Roma background which is repeatedly referred to derogatorily, although any victim status he might claim is undermined by his sexism, his contempt for Ana and the way he communicates his love for his traumatized son through survival lessons and harsh homilies. like, “You mustn’t feel pity. Those who have pity die first, I want you to die last.

By far the most likable character is Csilla, played fascinatingly by State. Like a sizable minority around these areas, she is of Hungarian descent and speaks Hungarian when not communicating with Sri Lankan workers in English or code-switching to Romanian depending on the occasion. (English subtitles are color-coded according to the language they translate.) A scene takes place during a Lutheran service in German, but the city also has Catholic and Orthodox congregations. And there’s a clever inference of classist resentments too, with Csilla’s cultured lifestyle – she spends her evenings in her beautifully renovated home learning to play the “In the Mood For Love” theme on her cello – indicating a level of privilege and higher education denied to most of the population.

The Sri Lankans aren’t the only foreigners: a French researcher is in town monitoring the forest bear population. He too is the target of the community’s ire, as a representative of the ecological preservation movement which has forced the closure of nearby polluting mining works, losing many local jobs and contributing to the problem of economic emigration. This, in turn, fostered a resurgent nationalism that manifests itself in celebrations and parades in which adherents dress in bearskins and helmets and proclaim their allegiance to Dacia – an ancient regional tribe valued for its resistance to the Romans and recently claimed as a symbol by some far-right factions.

It’s a complex film, so filled with ideas that one might expect aesthetics to be less of a concern, but “RMN” is almost absurdly beautiful. Tudor Panduru’s photography makes superb use of an extremely wide 2:39 aspect ratio which obviously flatters the strikingly beautiful Transylvanian landscapes, but would be extravagant for more talkative interiors, if they weren’t arranged with such precise choreography, framing and attention to the background. stock. Indeed, you get the feeling that, given Mungiu’s desire to demonstrate every aspect of every argument simultaneously, he would shoot 360 degrees if the option were available. And during the film’s centerpiece – an uninterrupted 17-minute shot of a crowded, agitated public meeting with multiple speakers and several action shots occurring simultaneously – it almost achieves an equivalent wraparound effect.

Papa Otto’s scans appear on Matthias’ phone and he goes through them, examining the old man’s massive brain growth slice by slice. It’s an easy metaphor for Mungiu’s approach with ‘NMR’, which is essentially a laser scan of the diseased Romanian social organ in which we can see the cancer of intolerance and inequality spreading strata. per stratum. It’s not surgery. Mungiu does not intervene, and he does not judge. It despairs though – never more so than with a daringly ambiguous finale that lends itself to around seven different interpretations, none of them perfect, all of them intriguing. Perhaps the easiest reading of this semi-surreal bear ending – which suggests that even Cristian Mungiu’s surprisingly clairvoyant realism may be inadequate to capture the gloom and brokenness of the world at the moment – is that the era of human social structures has passed. Maybe it’s time for so-called civilization to come out, chased by a bear.

About Timothy Ball

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