TIFF 2022: R.M.N., by David Bax
There’s a brief moment in Cristian Mungiu‘s R.M.N. that features a fox. It’s not really important to the film’s plot but that’s exactly what makes it memorable and why it says so much about Mungiu as a filmmaker. His films, like 2016’s Graduation and 2007’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, are intricate enough that they simply must be meticulously laid out, the dialogue carefully orchestrated. But they never feel that way. Mungiu’s talent for naturalism signifies an openness to the chance and randomness of the world. There’s room for a stray fox to cross our path and time for us to take note of it.
R.M.N. takes place in a small town in Romania’s Transylvania region, a setting apparently chosen by Mungiu for its mix of ethnic identities. By my count, Romanian, Hungarian, German, Finnish, English and Sinhala (or maybe Tamil, I’m no expert) are all spoken at one point or another in the film. And each language is given its own color of subtitles. That doesn’t make them all as easy to tell apart as it would seem but it does underline the variety of cultures in this one locale.
Conflict arises when the local factory bakery hires three Sri Lankan men to fill open positions. All of the film’s different languages and colors of text help us to see the ensuing turmoil from a variety of perspectives. Mungiu never asks us, of course, to identify specifically with the racism that springs up in response but we do see the frustration among out of work Romanians who see people occupying positions for lower pay. The operators of the factory capitalize on an appearance of humanitarianism for sticking up for the Sri Lankans but aren’t they just exploiting the poor?
It’s no coincidence that we see economic frustration among poor, uneducated members of a country’s ethnic majority mutate into racism; we’ve seen that time and time again here in America, stoked by cynical and unprincipled politicians. And this is clearly an ongoing problem in Romania itself, as evidenced not just by this movie but last year’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn as well. R.M.N. takes place pre-Covid so the specifics aren’t the same as in Radu Jude‘s film but both feature expertly crafted and lengthy scenes in which an official public meeting devolves into people shouting as if they’re doing a live reading of a far right message board. Mungiu gives us a panoply of ideas about what it means to be Romanian or even European. Options on offer range from ethnic to regional to class-based. Wisely, the film doesn’t push us toward any one definition but gives us a shocking overview of what a mess it all is.
It all culminates in a massive swing of a fiery, chaotic climax. Not all of the pieces come together by the end of R.M.N. but, if they did, that would only provide a dishonest portrait of what Mungiu’s trying to paint for us.