“RMN” by Cristian Mungiu, X-ray of a Europe under tension


Cristian Mungiu’s cinema breathes according to a singular rhythm. In 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days (Palme d’or 2007) or in Baccalauréat (Prix de la direction 2016), the race against time, to have an abortion or to obtain the diploma, was filmed with cold tension. This new film, RMN, is closer to Beyond the Hills (Screenplay Prize, Cannes 2012), where the love of two Orthodox nuns was punished with incredible collective brutality: an impression of great calm, of time suspended, before the violent resolution. The subject ? European history, its intertwining and, alas, the sad spiral of the scapegoat. Tout La Culture had met Cristian Mungiu in July at the La Rochelle Festival (see the interview).

The MRI of a fragmented society
The title RMN is the acronym, in Romanian, of Rezonanta Magnetica Nucleara. Either IRM, in French. An MRI, we do see one, furtively, in these 2 hours of film, when the father of the main character, after feeling unwell, undergoes an examination, but it is the Transylvanian village community and, more broadly, any fragmented society, that Christian Mungiu goes through the scanner. The X-ray focuses on the human tendencies to exclude the other, to fall back tightly on ancestral traditions to refuse openness to other cultures, by a reflex of fear, of lack of confidence. As in an MRI, a fake calm, barely a line, but the explosion smolders.

The film opens in violence: Winter 2019, in Germany, in a sheep slaughterhouse, Matthias (Marin Grigore) is called a “Gypsy” by his foreman. Immediately, he reacts with a headbutt and gets fired. The Gypsies, in his eyes, are the others. However, this Matthias Auner is also a Romanian immigrant, the family of his Papa Otto came from Luxembourg. ” Not even from Germany“, the chamber of friends. In this very small village community in Transylvania, Romanians, therefore, but also Romanians from Hungary, Germany, Luxembourg, and a few Gypsies, recently expelled.

The bread of discord
The strength of the film lies in the way Mungiu shifts the gaze. For almost an hour and a half, we essentially follow our anti-hero Matthias, this man at the end of his rope, who is out of place nowhere. Neither with his wife and son, nor with his former mistress, nor with his sick old father. In the background, like a discreet motif, two Sri Lankans arrived in the village, just before Christmas, recruited from the industrial bakery factory. The manager is Csilla (Judith State), the ex-mistress of Matthias, a liberated, elegant woman, who has been moving forward alone since her divorce. The bakery urgently needs to hire 5 workers, in the hope of obtaining European subsidies. The working conditions being miserable, no Romanian showed up. Csilla and her boss were rather expecting Asians – reputed to be hard-working – but the installation of the two Sri Lankans, discreet and polite, seems to be going smoothly.

Tipping point of this unstable balance, a scene of great power: For Christmas, the priest says mass, in the pretty white church, the faithful are singing, when the two Sri Lankans push open the door and enter. Immediately, a man gets up and, firmly, without a word, pushes them outside.

From this moment the mad mechanics of the scapegoat engage. The group effect comes into full play and, in a long sequence shot of a village assembly, speech is freed up. Certainly, a Facebook group against these foreigners had been created, where hateful messages transpired. But now, things will be said openly. The hatred of Europe, which distributes inappropriate subsidies (” Why not redo the highways instead?“), the strength of the prejudices to which Romanians feel exposed (“ Europe sees us as its amusement park. We don’t want to be the zoo of Europe!“), the most basic racism (“ With the Sri Lankans, we are sure to have black bread right away. “).

A tangled European mosaic
Matthias represents a sort of catalyst for contemporary frustrations: he looks very virile but is in fact a weakling. Always a gun in hand, a phallic symbol. But it is indeed Csilla, who walks around her home with a loose nudity, glass of wine in hand, who dominates him. Neither work, nor family harmony, what man is he in the eyes of his son, who no longer speaks? How to make a man out of her son? A bit archaic question. The little boy has been mute since he saw something terrible in the forest. ” You have to know how to fight so you don’t get crushed “Matthias strikes him, while he himself is constantly humiliated by society. Between the traditional festivals, processions of man-bears with bells, and the evolutions of universalization, the reference marks are scrambled for those which do not adapt. And the ancestors no longer die as before.

Before the action rushes, a beautiful lunch scene showed us, at the table, the intertwining of languages. The conversation flowed smoothly from Romanian to Hungarian, to German, to Roma, passing through English and French. Between two mouthfuls of cozonac, the patriarch recognized that Romania was a mosaic which, wedged between the Empires, had constantly resisted the invaders. But here, society does not form a solid whole, no place for solidarity. In NMR, Christian Mungiu films a muted implosion, a mess. ” And, if it explodes, we won’t even be in the news. remarks Matthias, in the assembly scene. Feeling of derision and abandonment, where only public opinion is still frightening. Because the sacred, in IRM, is very little present. It is no coincidence that the resentment comes out precisely during a mass. In the planes of the forest, where the gray-blue flakes flutter in all directions, there remains something beautiful and sad, which Matthias sometimes looks at: what does he see there?

NMR by Cristian Mungiu, Romania, 2h05, with Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Barlandeanu, Orsolya Moldovan, Andrei Finti, Mark Blenyesi. Official selection Cannes Film Festival 2022. Released in France on October 19, 2022.

visuals: official still from the film.

We wish to give thanks to the writer of this article for this outstanding material

“RMN” by Cristian Mungiu, X-ray of a Europe under tension