"...the most timely, powerful, and absorbing film I have seen so far this year."

Relevant Romanian Drama is One of the Year’s Best

(062923)  R.M.N. is a tremendously gripping drama from Romania about the cataclysmic changes Europe is currently going through, and the tensions that are arising as more immigrants enter countries that were formerly dominated by one race or culture. The film finished a successful run at the Gene Siskel Center, and it is currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and Vudu. It compares well with and might actually surpass such other fine films about immigration as: In America (2002), The Namesake (2006), The Visitor (2007), Minari (2020), and Brooklyn, (although this film has better acting.)

The acronym R.M.N. is the Romanian translation of  "MRI", the common medical machine which takes deep images of the human body-often in usage for brain scans. In the film is an analysis of an organ done with a laser tool which is used to find spreading cancer in a Romanian man. This ties to the film’s central theme because the movie deals with bigotry and intolerance which is spreading through European society like cancer. I saw some of this firsthand in real life when I heard an Italian from my family’s hometown responding to the prospect of increased immigration by casually saying: “what might be needed is a little soft fascism. “

R.M.N. was made by Cristian Mungiu, one of the most acclaimed film makers in Europe. He is a favorite at Cannes Film Festival, and many of his films won prestigious awards there. The Death of Mr. Lazarescu won Un Certain Regard in 2005, Beyond the Hills won best actress and best screenplay in 2012, Graduation won the Best Director Award, and most impressively, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and Two Days earned the highest award there, the Palme d’ or in 2007.

Mungiu is generally considered to be the finest and most successful proponents of the Romanian New Wave which has many elements in common with the Italian Neo Realist films of the 40’s and 50’s. Both movements were socially realistic and often minimalist in nature. Like the Italian Neorealist Films, Romanian New Wave films often take the viewpoint of the poor and marginalized factions of society, so they also share some traits in common with Stanley Kramer’s topical films. Mingiu has said in interviews that one of his favorite films is Vittorio De Sica’s "Bicycle Thieves" (1948) and the influence is evident.

R.M.N takes place in the very specific setting of a polarized region of Transylvania. But with its depiction of a fragmented society divided by ethnic and religious barriers, it is like a microcosm of much of Europe and in many ways the current U.S.A.

The film begins with a little boy named Rudi (Mark Blenyesi) who walks home and is horrified by a sight that he sees off screen and as a result he completely stops talking. Later Matthias (Marin Grigore) head butts his boss for calling him a lazy gypsy at his job and he flees to his Transylvanian hometown, and he demands to get visitation back to see his son who turns out to be the troubled Rudi.

Mathias is a complex, cynical, and only partially sympathetic character. He is descended from the Romani (formerly called gypsies) and is often confronted with racist slurs, but he also delivers some himself. Our sympathy for him is undermined because he treats women terribly and gives his son stern, dehumanizingly negative advice like, “You must not feel pity. Those who feel pity die first.”

Csilla, is the ex-lover that Matthias begins sleeping with again. She co-runs a bakery, and she needs to fill a certain amount of positions in order to qualify for an EU grant. The Hungarian born Csilla is the most likeable character in the film is like an oasis of culture in the desert of her impoverished anti-intellectual town. She parades around her apartment and sips wine while playing “Yumi’s Theme” on her violin from In the Mood for Love, a film which might have inspired the minimalist realism of this film.

She hires five immigrant workers that will work for wages so low that no locals will take the minimum wage positions. The men’s arrival inspires racist indignation and some locals say they will not buy bread made by “diseased immigrants,” and they begin a boycott of the bakery.

In addition, there is a more radical nationalist/racist faction of townspeople that begin marching at parades. They seem like a combination of the American KKK and survivalists who dress in bear skins and helmets. They think of themselves as a revival of Dacia, a regional tribe famous for their courage and savagery in repelling the Romans, and they believe the Romans were actually the ancestors of modern Romanians in that region. This crackpot view of history contrasts with the more accepted view that the area was merely a colony of Rome. The group (which is real) wants to restore classic monoculture Romania. I almost expected of them to say: “Make Transylvania great again.”

There is a great scene in the TV series, "Who is America?" in which Sacha Baron Cohen holds a town meeting and tries to sell a really racist community on the idea of building a mega mosque which outrages the townspeople who aren’t in on the joke. Although it is played for laughs the scene electrically captures a volcano of erupting ethnic tension. There is a similar but more serious scene in R.M.N. which is a 17-minute-long continuous take that includes 26 different characters spewing vitriol at a town meeting. The scene has the appearance of hard-hitting reality, and it may be the best extended sequence I have seen in a film all year.

Although the R.M.N. takes place in Europe, it is more relevant to the current situation in the USA than any recent American film I have seen. When the Romanian townspeople refer to the immigrants as “viruses,” they are using using words to reduce people to less than human. They have the same xenophobic tone expressed in Trump speeches about “infestations of immigrants swarming,” likening them to vermin. The scene also reminded me of a speech in which the former of Italy prime minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi who promised that he would stop the “infestations of immigrants.”

This week as we cross the halfway point of 2023, R.M.N. stands out as the most timely, powerful, and absorbing film I have seen so far this year. Anyone who cares about international affairs or the changing complexions of today’s countries should make every effort to view it preferably on a big screen so they can appreciate the often painterly cinematography.

Written & Directed by:    Cristian Mungiu
Starring:    Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Barladeanu,
 Orsoloya Moldovan
Released:    04/14/23 (USA-wide)
Length:    127 minutes
Rating:     Unrated with nudity and violence
Available On:    At press time the film was Available for streaming
 on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Google Play, and
 Vudu. Also playing in some local theaters

 In Romanian, Hungarian, German, and French
 with English subtitles

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on  July 8 at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 7:00pm-9:00pm at 3324 South Halsted. Hosted by Vittorio Carli.
Special features will include Bob Lawrence, Clair “Fluff” Llewellyn, Peter Pero, Ivan Ramos and Nicholas Michael Ravnikar.

R.M.N.  © 2023  Mobra Films
All Rights Reserved

Review © 2023 Alternate Reality, Inc.


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