Cannes: the director of “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days”, Cristian Mungiu, extends his signature moral thrillers across an entire village.
Rarely has Chekhov’s weapon fallen into such firm and menacing hands as in Cristian Mungiu’s poorly titled and skilfully staged “RMN”. Palme d’Or “4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days”) in an entire village in Transylvania. The result is a socio-economic melting pot that carefully shifts its weight to the same foot that Mungiu always likes to rest on your throat; a slightly too broad story of timeless xenophobia, full of local flavors and set at the dawn of a precise moment in the 21st century.
The film begins far from the snowy hamlet where most of it takes place, as bull-headed Matthias (Marin Grigore) unceremoniously quits his job at a German slaughterhouse by headbutting his boss for calling him a ” Lazy gypsy”. And so, with few other options and the cops hot on his trail, Matthias returns to the financially deprived hometown where he left his young wife Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu) and their young son Rudi (Mark Blenyesi), who refused to talk since he saw Something in the woods in front of their house.
Matthias is one of many able-bodied men who left his unnamed village in search of work after the local mine closed, but that doesn’t mean anyone is happy he’s returned. That’s especially true of his Hungarian-born bourgeois ex (Judith State as Csilla), second-in-command of the struggling local bread factory that fuels the city’s economy as best it can.
An incongruous, urban woman who can often be found sitting in her kitchen with a glass of red wine and playing “Yumeji’s Theme” from “In the Mood for Love” on her cello, Csilla refuses to entertain Matthias the first time around. that he comes to sniff around her back door. When she finally lets him in to fuck – a peculiar word choice that speaks to Mungiu’s emphasis on the conflicting agendas of language, which he often expresses through a rainbow of color-coded captions – Matthias leaves his precious shotgun at the entrance to Csilla as a symbol of his non-violent intentions. It wouldn’t be a spoiler to say someone picks it up before the movie ends, though I guarantee you won’t be able to predict why.
While the tension that seeps beneath “RMN” is immediately palpable in Mungiu’s signature long shots – the most gripping of which is a 17-minute long take set at a bloodthirsty town meeting that features most of the cast of the whole and divides their dialogue into 26 different speaking parts – the film is slow to reveal the deep source of its unease. Unlike Mungiu’s previous features, which stuck to their harassed protagonists with the full attention of St. Peter judging their souls, this one turns the implosive Matthias into something of a tour guide for his economic strife. Due to his rudeness and disloyalty, Matthias is the only person in town who has a place at everyone’s table, if not a place in everyone’s bed.
When Matthias’ in-laws host a Christmas dinner for their family – and the French boarder who has come to track the local bear population for an NGO – Matthias is there. When the Reverend needs help with his cattle, Matthias is the first he asks (the film’s unnamed village, evocatively played by an ancient UNESCO heritage site called Rimetea, is kind of where “would you kill my pig?” is a typical way of selling hello). And when Csilla needs someone to fetch one of the three Sri Lankan men she has legally hired for the low-paid factory jobs the local men won’t take, Matthias complies without a word. Despite his personal experience of the prejudices that can result from working abroad, Matthias does not foresee the powder keg that the gentleman on the back of his motorbike will soon ignite.
For the first half of the film, in fact, Matthias is more a source of tension than he is a witness to it. Conversations about labor shortages and the lack of available men are largely peripheral to the domestic lives of characters like Csilla, though she clearly suffers from both. Matthias’ economic anxiety can be felt wherever he goes – it’s steeped in his abusive temper and expressed through his toxic expressions of masculine strength.
In an exceptionally delightful moment of transference, Tudor Vladimir Panduru’s watchful camera seems to capture that anger flowing through a sea of brown leaves before scattering to the town’s other unemployed. Men who don’t have sex with the area’s newest job broker, and might be a little quicker to project their pent-up frustrations onto his new Sri Lankan employees.
Pulling ever harder on the tension between complex socio-economic forces and the simple human emotions they inspire, “RMN” masterfully transforms an all-too-familiar narrative of migration into an atavistic passion play on the antagonistic effects of globalization. on the European Union. Now might be a good time to repeat my recent Cannes mantra: it’s more entertaining than it sounds. The bitter details of Mungiu’s story contribute to this, especially as the EU grants burst into major focal points and the background characters emerge as violent antagonists (standing apart from each other even when ‘they gather in one crowd).
There is a rare elegance in the way Mungiu establishes the history of this place and its cultural divides, and an insinuation in the way he anticipates its future; Set imperceptibly in 2019 despite being written in 2021, the film finds some of the city’s most outspoken racists referring to their Sri Lankan neighbors as ‘viruses’ whose hands could spread any disease not specified. No matter what happens near the end of “RMN”, we have the feeling that what is to come will be even worse.
Keep looking forward and you might not get stuck on Mungiu’s title, which stands for “Rezonanta Magnetica Nucleara”, and only becomes only vaguely obvious during the brief scene in which Matthias takes his ailing father into a major city hospital for an MRI (insourcing the workforce is considered a major emergency, but outsourcing the ER is just a means of survival). The detour adds little to the mosaic Mungiu creates here, and illustrates how this film’s more abstract ideas and universal symbols tend to distract from the meat of the drama at hand. As a character, Matthias’ father never quite earns his keep, and his son’s newfound silence is resolved with an awkwardness rarely found in Mungiu’s work.
A single sign – nailed to a wall at the start of the film and translated into English subtitles as a beacon for Western audiences – bears fruit by the end. Its message resonates through the eerie and breathtaking final moments of the last Mungiu in a way that allows “RMN” to transcend its predictability while remaining rooted in a very specific place; locking Matthias somewhere in his once-comfortable middle ground between nature and understanding, hate and despair. The sign reads: “Beware of wild animals”. They are closer than he thinks.
“RMN” premiered in competition at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival. IFC Films will release it in theaters later this year.