It’s been half a decade since Cristian Mungiu’s previous film, the excellent Bacalaureat/Graduation, and there’s a bit of its thematic DNA in his most recent work. The movie goes beyond that though by exploring a real event which left its mark on Romanian society a few years ago, an event littered with prejudice and xenophobia. R.M.N. is a bit messy and concludes in an unsatisfying fashion, but rewards the viewer with a layered experience.
From the get-go, there’s a coldness to R.M.N. (Romanian abbreviation for Magnetic Resonance Imaging) that you can’t shake – it’s visual, it’s seasonal and it’s in the lead character, a monosyllabic bear of a man named Matthias. After an incident occurs while working abroad, he returns home, where more coldness awaits him, as he’s met by a distant wife, an emotionally stifled child and a circumspect lover. His home village, set between mountains and forests, stands out by being multiethnic – predominantly Hungarians and Romanians, but also some Germans, like Matthias. The interaction between Mungiu’s characters is fascinating to watch, as they transition seamlessly between languages, portraying a well-knit, burgeoning community. It is only after a couple of Sri-Lankan workers arrive to work at the local bakery that the the xenophobe’s nest starts stirring.
The movie has a strong build-up, creating a tense atmosphere while setting all its pieces in place. Its characters are faced with more agency than one usual sees, working the underlying beliefs and attitudes onto the screen. And when things turn, they turn quickly and viscously, yet almost unexpectedly – feeding on a sense of unexpressed resentfulness, a feeling primed by our lead’s emotional literacy. Similarly to another recent Romanian movie themed around prejudices, Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, R.M.N. Climaxes at a town meeting, where all the paper-thin-arguments you’re friendly Facebook neighbour would have shared are laid bare.
To me, this is where the movie wavers. Even as Mungiu tries to maintain a less than judgmental distance from its subjects, there’s something so banal and un-cinematic about this kind of stand-off, that it simply cannot carry the burden imposed by the narrative arc. The scene works in spite of this, it works because of the little details and the (un)expected escalation, but it’s not a worthy pay-off to what preceded it. And the conclusion that follows it even less so, being close to the absurd in spite of striving for symbolism.
Still, R.M.N shouldn’t leave you unimpressed. It tackles big themes with passionate interest and concern, which makes up for any shortcomings, thereby proving a worthy addition to Mungiu’s impressive catalogue of films.