Review: R.M.N. doesn’t hold back in displaying the dangers of groupthink within a small community. Written and directed effortlessly by Cristian Mungiu, the movie is a doomed and icy warning about depicting foreigners as monsters. A remarkable international film that stands among the best movies of 2023.
R.M.N. is the latest movie from Romanian director Cristian Mungiu. Mungiu’s work is relatively new to me, because although his most significant work 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days won the Palme d’Or back during its run at Cannes, that was in 2007 – long before I made the effort to check out many of the acclaimed international pictures throughout each year. I had heard stellar remarks about R.M.N. when it premiered a few years back overseas, but it hadn’t made its way over until just recently where it’s now available to stream.
And while years have passed since this poorly named film first hit audiences with haymakers of emotional distress and moral complexities, R.M.N. still feels every ounce important as I’m sure it felt back in 2021. Each searing depiction of the frosted landscape that covers this world only serves as an invitation for the cultural divide simmering inside of it.
The main character of R.M.N. isn’t the typical protagonist you’d expect to come by in many movies stewing in this type of social commentary and subject matter. Matthias (Marin Grigore) ostensibly is that main character, having returned to the region of Transylvania in Romania after hard-quitting his job at a slaughterhouse in Germany by headbutting his superior. He’s come to make amends with various members of his life from before, including his son Rudi and Rudi’s mother Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu), as well as his old father Otto.
Matthias is brash by nature, displayed by the events that drive him back to Transylvania, but that brashness only intensifies as he’s set back in the world that developed it. R.M.N. repositions many of the anxieties director Cristian Mungiu has towards current social climates as the domineering group think of this region of Romania.
The xenophobia and racism is felt throughout the length of R.M.N., always lurking behind each conversation (or confrontation) and threatening to boil over at a moment’s notice. Matthias’ ex Csilla (Judith State) offers employment at a bakery to two immigrants, upsetting the status quo of the city’s ethnocentric consumers. The movie transforms into a lengthy protest of human dissonance and the overwhelming notion that it’s always easy to place your own troubles on the faults of another person.
And it’s easy to mistake R.M.N. as incredibly modern, because while it does feel like xenophobic sentiment has grown in popularity over the recent decade as we’ve become exposed to negative beliefs and obnoxious perspectives across the globe, it’s always been entrenched so deeply in the structures put in place by those in power. R.M.N. only acts to expose indecent behavior exhibited for centuries upon centuries.
This all comes to a head in the movie’s climax, and one of the best scenes of 2023, as we witness a near-20 minute long single-shot townhall as citizens voice their grievances about everything they perceive as attacking them – from outsiders taking their jobs (despite not exactly wanting to work, as Csilla points out) to ignorant and misinformed beliefs about the cleanliness of Muslims to fill-in-the-blank whataboutisms that become bitter fast. It’s gross and eye-opening, but not all that much surprising as each intolerable remark one-ups the one before it.
R.M.N. plays much slower than this in its first half, setting up public sentiment through quiet conversations and murmuring remarks. While sometimes too slow for its own good, it all still builds to an effective and worthwhile slowburn. Each character interaction feels monumental when it’s laid out later on in the open for all to interpret, each townsperson having to choose to side with the bakery or common groupthink.
And then there’s a different element to R.M.N., one more personal and spiritual for Matthias. Growing up in a community like his has taught him that being tough and self-reliant is to be manly. He attempts to infuse this same belief into Rudi, which doesn’t play well with Ana – understandably. The two bicker about how to raise their son, while Rudi refuses to talk altogether after seeing something while strolling through the woods.
I found this to be slightly more fulfilling in the first leg of R.M.N. as it tries to slow play the larger thematic core of the movie. Maybe it’s because of my recent viewing habits, but I likened Cristian Mungiu’s approach in R.M.N. to Abbas Kiarostami’s work. They take an unfiltered, completely straightforward and meditative look at the place and culture that they know best, although Mungiu’s depiction has a slightly more sinister angle to it.
But both are unfazed in struggling through common perception within the society that they grew up in. Mungiu uses Matthias to build tension in the first hour of R.M.N., only to sideline him as witness to that same anger in the second half – to a point where he’s utterly useless while at the townhall. As if he’s only capable of spewing hate when around those he knows won’t punish him, even if he knows deep down his perceptions and statements are false.
It’s icy and slick, and Cristian Mungiu manages to make R.M.N. uniquely entertaining, complex, and thought provoking. I’ve seen many movies labeling themselves as prescient and timely, but few movies accomplish being timeless and timely, a quality that R.M.N. holds due to its distinct time in history when immigration levels became increasingly volatile in the E.U.
R.M.N. isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you dig deep into its layers of socioeconomic despair, Mungiu has crafted one of the better international pictures released in 2023 thus far (at least in 2023 to U.S. audiences). A daring script with an even more daring finale, one that compounds the misguided beliefs of its main characters with the harsh realities of the outside world – that someday you have to face the land you’ve sworn off time and time again.
R.M.N. is available to rent and own on VOD here
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R.M.N. Cast and Credits
Marin Grigore as Matthias
Judith State as Csilla
Macrina Bârlădeanu as Ana
Director: Cristian Mungiu
Writer: Cristian Mungiu
Cinematography: Tudor Vladimir Panduru
Editor: Mircea Olteanu
R.M.N. movie on Letterboxd
R.M.N. movie on IMDb