Premiered at Cannes in 2022, Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu’s riveting latest feature finally reaches these shores with all its prescience intact. As with Mungiu’s 2007 film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days – probably his best-known worldwide – R.M.N. functions both as a tense, knotty human drama, a trenchant political statement, and a moral provocation. This time, however, the writer-director adds intriguing notes of the eerie and folkloric. They haunt the periphery of a subject matter that is all-too-real.
Inspired by part by actual incidents that took place in 2020 in the Romanian village of Ditrău, the film initially follows bullish Matthias (Marin Grigore), who returns from Germany after head-butting his boss. Once he arrives, the canvas broadens to encompass the rest of his benighted home village – and the three Sri Lankan men whose presence as employees at a local factory makes them a focal point for the myriad tensions, both unspoken and unspeakable, that circulate in the collective psyche of its inhabitants. A preponderance of bear costumes – part of local folk traditions – hint at the fault-lines between the human and the bestial, and prefigure the film’s shiveringly strange final movements, where bleak inevitability somehow coincides with the truly unexpected.
As ever with Mungiu, the filmmaking itself is austere yet virtuosic – from Tudor Vladimir Panduru’s exquisite, wintry photography, to the minutely detailed choreography of a savage town hall scene that features no less than 26 speaking parts. What resonates most, however, are the film’s unsettling ambiguities – its hints at something disquietingly universal, residing within what appears to be such a localised story. The title itself is both a contraction of the word ‘Romania’ and an allusion to the Romanian acronym for nuclear magnetic resonance – a state of the nation address, but also something elemental. On all levels, it’s difficult to shake.
Words: David Turpin
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Talent: Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Barladeanu
Release Date: September 22