Combustible Celluloid Review - R.M.N. (2023), Cristian Mungiu, Cristian Mungiu, Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Bârlădeanu, Orsolya Moldován, Andrei Finți, Mark Blenyesi, Ovidiu Crișan
Combustible Celluloid
With: Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Bârlădeanu, Orsolya Moldován, Andrei Finți, Mark Blenyesi, Ovidiu Crișan
Written by: Cristian Mungiu
Directed by: Cristian Mungiu
MPAA Rating: NR
Language: In Romanian, Hungarian, German, English, with English subtitles
Running Time: 125
Date: 04/28/2023

R.M.N. (2023)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Scan Opener

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Graduation), who was a key part of the exciting, minimalist Romanian New Wave of the mid-2000s, returns with yet another brilliant, subtly devastating work. The title, R.M.N. — which I initially guessed was some sort of shortening of the word "Romania" — is actually an acronym for a brain scan. (Or perhaps both?)

As it begins, eight-year-old Rudi (Mark Edward Blenyesi) is walking through the woods. He sees something that shocks him (something we cannot see) and retreats. Then, Matthias (Marin Grigore) is working at a slaughterhouse in Germany, when he suddenly assaults his boss for calling him a "lazy gypsy." He must then make a hasty retreat back to his hometown in Transylvania. Matthias is Rudi's father, and he learns from his ex Ana (Macrina Barladeanu) — Rudi's mother — that Rudi has stopped speaking after seeing whatever he saw.

Meanwhile, Csilla (Judith State) — who occasionally sleeps with Matthias — runs a bakery in town. In order to qualify for a grant, she must fill three more positions. But locals will not work for minimum wage, so she hires three Sri Lankans. This does not go over well with the locals — a mix of Romanians and Hungarians who already share an uneasy truce — and they begin to boycott the bakery's bread. (They don't want the foreigners' hands touching their food.)

The movie culminates in a lengthy, single-take town meeting in which angry locals try to vote to have the Sri Lankans ejected. ("We have no problem with them, so long as they go back where they belong," goes the not-so-veiled racist refrain.) The tension is elevated when Matthias spends the meeting trying to flirt with Csilla, attempting to hold her hand, while she is furious to learn that he ignorantly voted to oust her employees.

Finally, there's Papa Otto (Andrei Finți), who may be Matthias's father or father-figure (the movie never confirms which), but someone who is very important to Matthias. Papa Otto is the one who had the brain scan, and Matthias has the results in his phone; every so often, he scrolls through the eerie images.

It could be that, with R.M.N., director Mungiu is attempting to do a kind of brain scan on Romania itself, looking at cross-sections and discovering points and counterpoints. There are so many little touches that seem to knock things off-balance on one end, only to be re-balanced by something else. Matthias's relationship with little Rudi consists of haranguing the small boy about using guns and practicing self-defense, while Csilla is sometimes heard practicing the cello, playing Shigeru Umebayashi's gorgeous music from In the Mood for Love (2001), a wildly out-of-place vibe here.

Even in single compositions, Mungiu finds the balance and the off-balance, not only the attempted hand-holding during the town hall meeting, but even in a scene as simple as Matthias and Csilla lying in bed discussing love, or an injury at the bakery, as seen from the high window of the manager's office. (Mungiu's rigid, crystalline compositions and the organic, fluid way the characters move through them reminded me of the late, great Edward Yang.)

What emerges from R.M.N. is the portrait of blithe racism, so ingrained that even the village priest finally shrugs it off, not really sure what can be done about it. The arguments heard against the Sri Lankans — including one that states that they have a "different virus pathology" — are absurd, but come from people who haven't the slightest grasp of their own hate and racism. These dark, sinister feelings are covered up by any number of supposed "logical" reasonings, and the sheer number of these have the power to gang up on and back good people into a corner. Mungiu offers no solutions, but has illustrated the problem in a strikingly clear, shattering way.

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