After debuting at last year’s Cannes Film Festival, Christian Mungiu‘s R.M.N. is finally starting to play commercially. It’ll open Friday (5.5.) at HE’s own Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, where I’ll be catching a 7:30 pm show.

From HE’s paywalled review, “Do Bears Shit In the Woods?“, posted on 5.22.22: The meaning of the title of R.M.N., the latest film by the great Romanian auteur Cristian Mungiu, is never revealed, or it wasn’t to me during last night’s Salle Debussy screening.

The Wiki page says that Mungiu “named the film after an acronym for rezonanța magnetica nucleara ** (‘nuclear magnetic resonance’) as the film is ‘an investigation of the brain, a brain scan trying to detect things below the surface.'”

So the film is basically about scanning the small-town minds of the residents of Recia***, a commune located in Transylvania, which most of us still associate with Dracula.

But the underlying focus isn’t vampires but racist xenophobes who fear Middle Eastern immigrants and more specifically two gentle fellows from Sri Lanka who’ve been hired to work at a local bakery.

It takes a while for the racism to emerge front and center, but a metaphorical representation is the nub of it — a phantom that lurks in the surrounding woods and more particularly within.

The phantom manifests three times — (a) in the opening scene in which the small son of Matthias (Marin Grigore), an unemployed slaughterhouse worker, is spooked by its off-screen presence while walking in the woods, (b) in the third act when a significant characters hangs himself (also in the woods), and (c) at the very end when four or five bears are spotted by Matthias after nightfall (ditto).

R.M.N. is a meditative slow-burn parable that you’ll either get or you won’t, but there’s no missing the brilliance of a one-shot town hall meeting in which the locals are demanding that the Sri Lankans be expelled from the community.

The shot lasts for roughly 17 minutes, and it’s all fast, bickering dialogue, simultaneously burrowing into the ignorance of the townies while building and deepening and man-oh-man…it’s so fucking great that I said to myself “this is it…this is what my Cristian Mungiu fixes are all about, and thank the Lords of Cannes for allowing me, a traveller from the states, to absorb this in my well-cushioned theatre seat.

The build-up narrative is about Matthias and his mute son Rudi (Mark Blenyesi), his resentful ex-wife Ana (Macrina Bârlădeanu) and Csilla, a passionate, kind-hearted bakery manager and cello player (Judith State) whom Matthias has an undefined sexual relationship with. He never says he actually “loves” her although he keeps returning to her home for solace and whatnot.

Secondary characters include the bakery owner, Mrs. Denes (Orsolya Moldován), and the local priest, Papa Otto (Andrei Finți), and a sizable gathering of anxious, agitated citizens who are basically the local reps of the Mississippi Burning club.

I was going to throw a little snark by alluding to Gene Wilder’s description of the townspeople of Blazing Saddles — “Simple people, people of the land, common clay…you know, morons.”

Except they’re representative of millions of native Europeans right now who are clearly unsettled by Middle Eastern and Sry Lankan immigrants who’ve been taking root and are changing the traditional character of what they’ve always regarded as “their” culture and homeland.

Xenophobic nationalism reps an un-Christian way of thinking and behaving, to put it mildly, but…I don’t know what to conclude except that it’s fundamentally cruel. Nonetheless this kind of rightwing pushback is manifesting all over. Make of it what you will.

That’s all I need to say. R.M.N. and particularly that town-hall scene are going to reside in my head for a long time to come.

** The English language term is MRI.

*** The film was mostly shot in Rimetea.