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Romanian director Cristian Mungiu on his film 'R.M.N.'


Cristian Mungiu's new film opens during the holiday season in a village in Transylvania from which many of the local Romanian and ethnically Hungarian residents have gone to Germany and elsewhere in the European Union to earn better wages and to which people from Sri Lanka have come to work because the local bakery needs enough employees to qualify for an EU grant.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, singing in Romanian).

SIMON: Locals forced the three Sri Lankans who come to a church service to leave.


JOZSEF BIRO: (As priest, speaking Romanian).

SIMON: Priest tells his parishioners, but they're all God's children. Parishioner replies, they can be God's children back home. Somebody adds...


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character, speaking Romanian).

SIMON: ...Why don't they hire our own folks? "R.M.N." is the new film written and directed by the Romanian filmmaker who won the Palme d'Or at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. It stars Marin Grigore, Judith State and Macrina Barladeanu. Cristian Mungiu joins us from Bucharest. Thanks so much for being with us.

CRISTIAN MUNGIU: Thank you for the invitation.

SIMON: What moved you to tell a story like this right now?

MUNGIU: Well, I think that it's not just a story about a Transylvanian village. And by the way, Transylvania is just a part of Romania with no vampires. I think it's the story of the world somehow. It's a snapshot about the situation of what we live today in a lot of senses - first of all, starting with this anxiety that people experience in general about the future. And this anxiety probably triggers a sort of attitude towards the others, and especially the others who we do not identify as being part of our tribe.

And we see this happening in different forms in all the countries. We see that once the globalization allowed people to move freely, more or less, on the planet, that generated a lot of responses, a lot of effects. And I think that there is too big a gap between what people say in public and what they believe when they are just by themselves. And this is kind - you know, somehow a collateral effect of this political correctness which taught people that you are not allowed to say this or that. But it didn't change what they believe.

SIMON: Many of the villagers are ethnically Hungarian. They're not particularly welcoming to these three Sri Lankan - just three Sri Lankans - who've arrived. But help us understand why they feel they have been the victims of discrimination in the past.

MUNGIU: Yes. Transylvania is primarily a territory which is being disputed for years between Romania and Hungary, a territory which passed from one country to the other. And it's not nice, but any time when the other country had the territory, they were trying to impose their point of view and to discriminate the minority. It happened both ways. The situation is better now because of the European Union, to be honest. That was the solution, finally, here in Europe. The borders are not that important any longer. But traditionally, this doesn't change deep down in people immediately. And what hasn't changed is their idea that they need to preserve their community, enclosed, the way it was so that they survived for so many years.

SIMON: Let me ask you about what a lot of critics have noted is just an extraordinary scene, almost like out of an old masters' painting.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking Romanian).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, speaking Romanian).

UNIDENTIFIED ACTORS: (As characters, speaking Romanian).

SIMON: Community meeting - hundreds of villagers speak out. The camera never moves. The scene runs about 15 minutes. How do you direct so many people at one time and get them all to talk when they should in the language they should and interact and bounce off each other and not miss a beat?

MUNGIU: You know, what matters for me is the result. It's very difficult to get there, but what matters is the result. I mean, I want my films to be as close to reality as possible and as, let's say, objective as possible. And if you observe reality, there are no cuts in reality. There is no editing. So the thing that I'm trying to mimic in the films is to identify a way of staging the situations in which you can follow them as a spectator from your single own point of view without me as a director telling you what's important, what's not important and cutting out what's not important. To get there, that's a different thing. And it's a very difficult process in the sense that everybody needs to know precisely what he has to say, when he has to say and, little by little, at what temperature he needs to deliver his lines.

SIMON: Are the people in that meeting - Romanians and Romanians of Hungarian extraction - do they feel they're being lectured to by the European Union in a sense?

MUNGIU: I think that at times, yes, they feel that from this very distant and imprecise place, there are a lot of very good ideas coming. But these kind of ideas work wonderful, theoretically, but on the ground, the situation is always a bit more complicated.

SIMON: From what you know of the United States, is this a film that needs to be seen here now, too?

MUNGIU: I think that in United States as well - I think there are a lot of conflicts which are quite similar to what you can see in this film. We can see that this populism, which is is becoming more and more present in the lives of people lately - as you can see in the film, this community had kind of a so-called democratic decision in the sense that the majority wanted something, but the majority was very manipulated and working on a lot of stereotypes and cliches. And this is why I think that it's very important to engage into a real conversation.

It's a big danger because, as you can see for all the elections in the last years, all these people who understood what political correctness is and what they are allowed or not allowed to say in public, whenever they have the freedom to vote, will more and more bring to power, you know, kind of unreasonable people fighting against a lot of humanistic values which were acquired in years and years of education and struggle. And I think we need to do something about this.

SIMON: Cristian Mungiu - his film, "R.M.N.," in theaters now.

Thank you so much for being with us.

MUNGIU: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.