- CANNES 2022: Cristian Mungiu crafts a masterful film, delving to the heart of a tiny Transylvanian village that reflects modern-day evils, and decisions taken on an individual and European level
“Beware of the wild animals.” Glimpsed on the door of a shop in the tiny Transylvanian village placed under the microscope here or, even more fittingly, subjected to the nuclear magnetic resonance vaguely hinted at by the title, R.M.N. [+see also:
interview: Cristian Mungiu
interview: Judith State
film profile] (unveiled in competition at the 75th Cannes Film Festival), of the new film by great Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (who has been festooned with awards on the Croisette, scooping the Palme d’Or in 2007, the Best Director Award in 2016, and the Best Screenplay Award and the Best Actress Award in 2012), this warning is obviously not in vain, bringing to mind just as much (if not more) the humans from the region, or even Europeans in a wider social context. It’s a microcosm that the filmmaker examines with exceptional mastery of his craft.
Because Transylvania, with its multi-lingual nature (Romanian is spoken there, but also a lot of Hungarian and a bit of German, not to mention the Gypsies chased out recently) and its problems resonating on a broader, continental scale (economic migration emptying the surrounding areas of people, and the appeal of, or dependency on, EU support superseding deeply rooted local traditions), is a perfect example of the thin line separating the collective sense of belonging (the concert and the people’s choir) and the crystallisation of the fear of others, those strangers hailing from elsewhere on which people project their fantasies, whereas actually they are just a reflection of ourselves. Mungiu suggests all of the contrasting facets and ambiguous behaviour inherent in this by opting to eschew simplification, with the intention of purifying the water to at least make it drinkable after it has already been heavily polluted.
The two key elements of the story are Matthias (Marin Grigore), who abruptly quit his job in Germany to return to the village where his wife Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu) and his eight-year-old, mute son live, and Csilla (Judith State), who manages a small bread factory that is having a hard time securing enough staff (because of low salaries) and must rapidly find five new employees in order to be eligible for European aid. The two main characters are long-standing lovers, and it’s no secret for anyone in this little community where everyone knows each other. But then, three Sri Lankan labourers turn up, and the controversy intensifies in an environment where everyone’s rifle is within arm’s reach, and where children are told that the main thing is "fire, water, knowing how to fight and not feeling pity".
The whole, subtle art of Cristian Mungiu is to introduce and truly bring into existence a huge number of supporting characters (the priest, the mayor, Ana’s family, Matthias’s father, the factory employees, the leaders of the anti-migrant groups and so on), thus painting a very comprehensive portrait of the microcosm (including some exceptional group scenes) that could almost be documentary-like, if the filmmaker didn’t also have the specific talent of being able to sensitively probe the private lives of the characters (two-sided love, parent-child relationships, the passing down of values or tolerance, and so on). Add to this a highly suggestive setting consiting of woodlands, valleys, hills, a semi-frozen lake, an immense, abandoned mine, Mass in church and lively (or not so lively) little concerts wrapped up in the ambiance of the end-of-year celebrations, an unsettling tension, and the remarkable, immersive cinematography of Tudor Vladimir Panduru, and it all makes for a perfect, fascinating and astute fresco, which takes shape around the key issue of the collective in the face of its urges for life and death.
Produced by Mobra Film, R.M.N. was co-produced by Why Not Productions, Les Films du Fleuve, France 3 Cinéma, Filmgate Films, Film I Väst and Wild Bunch, which is also in charge of its international sales.
(Translated from French)
Photogallery 21/05/2022: Cannes 2022 - R.M.N.
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