RMN is the Romanian acronym for “nuclear magnetic resonance” and, sure enough, modern master Cristian Mungiu’s urgent, fiercely intelligent migration drama doubles as a laser-enhanced dissection of European hypocrisies and contradictions.
Based on the real-life 2020 Ditrău xenophobic incident, Mungiu’s sixth feature follows Matthias (Marin Grigore), a Transylvanian migrant of Roma lineage returning to his hometown for Christmas.
There are family issues to contend with, including an estranged wife, a vulnerable eight-year-old son and an elderly father who requires the medical procedure of the title. Matthias soon rekindles his romance with ex-girlfriend Csilla, the owner of the local bakery whose wine-drinking and cello renditions of Yumeji’s Theme from Wong Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love suggest bourgeois sensibilities that seem entirely at odds with her gruff, lunkheaded lover.
It is Csilla who has invited three Sri Lankan workers to her bakery as she urgently needs to fill five additional positions to qualify for an EU grant. The arrival of Mahinda (Amitha Jayasinghe), Alick (Gihan Edirisinghe) and Rauff (Nuwan Karunarathna) causes a village-wide kerfuffle, inspiring a stand-off that is dramatised in an astonishing 17-minute town hall sequence that redefines Altmanesque sound design. The Tower of Babel comes to mind, as various nationalities and ethnicities – Hungarian, Romanian, French and German – unite in their angry rejection of outsiders. There are no easy answers here, only people and centuries of redrawn borders.
Since his Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, Mungiu has proved a master of menacing dialogue; his scripts escalate and ripple into unexpected shapes. RMN adds even more layers to the filmmaker’s art. The surrounding forests and Csilla’s well-appointed cottage, as magicked on screen by cinematographer Tudor Panduru, create a sense of unease. The presence of bears adds a folkloric dimension. Something is lurking in Mungiu’s woods.