27 Sep 23
Marin Grigore, Judith Slate
If you want to know European cinema - really know European cinema - you have to know Cristian Mungiu. The leading light of the Romanian New Wave, Mungiu is an auteur in the truest sense of the term, a towering filmmaker with a consistent world view relayed through stunning cinematic style.
2007's 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, the story of two university roommates who try to procure an illegal abortion in the final days of Ceaușescu's Romania, won three awards at the Cannes Film Festival, including the Palme d'Or. A festival darling, Mungiu's later films, Beyond The Hills and Graduation, also picked up awards at Cannes, cementing his reputation on the international scene as one of the modern greats.
Still operating on an elite level, Mungiu's latest, R.M.N., is yet another masterpiece, rich in theme, style and deeply felt, soulful humanity.
Unlike most of his work, R.M.N. broadens Mungiu's focus from a single protagonist to examine how personal tensions play out across an entire Transylvanian community. At the centre of village life is Csilla (Judith Slate), second-in- command at a struggling bread factory that works hard to support the town economically. Csilla needs to fill five positions to be eligible for an EU grant, so turns to hiring migrant workers from Sri Lanka willing to work on a salary the locals will not. When the Sri Lankans arrive, it ignites a wave of racist anger and fury in the picturesque village, revealing an undercurrent of religious, ethnic and cultural divisions that have long been bubbling under the surface (redolent of Mungiu's cinematic smarts, the subtitles are colour- coded to effectively communicate the linguistic melting pot).
At the heart of the film is Csilla, beautifully etched by Slate. A sympathetic, sophisticated woman at home sitting in her kitchen with a glass of wine or playing cello, she gives the film a grounded empathetic centre. There is a lovely moment when Csilla's homecooked meal with the Sri Lankans evolves into a mini concert, a much- needed respite amid the swirling conflicts.
Circling Csilla is the brutish Matthias (Marin Grigore) looking to rekindle a romance with his old flame, while young boy Rudi (Mark Blenyesi) witnesses a horrific sight in the woods that causes him to run home and stop speaking. As ever with Mungiu, all human life is present and correct.
The filmmaking is always on point. The imagery is handsome, and Tudor Vladimir Panduru's cinematography not only makes breathtaking use of the starkly beautiful Transylvanian landscapes but is also dazzlingly effective in interior, dialogue-driven scenes. The precise choreography between actors and camera can only be the handiwork of a true master. In this regard, the film's highlight is a 17-minute-long unbroken take that captures a fractious town hall meeting in which the 2022 villagers from all factions air their grievances and issues, the opinions and tribal differences building up at a dizzying rate. It is the film in microcosm and it is exhilarating.
The result is a powerhouse of a picture. The title feels like it should stand for Romania but is actually shorthand for a brain-scan procedure undertaken by Matthias's sheep-farmer father, Papa Otto (Andrei Finţi).
It's an apt metaphor for Mungiu's M.O. : a surgical exploration of a nation on a political, cultural and emotional level. Ian Freer
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