An NPR member station
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Dan Webster reviews "R.M.N."


Fear in one form or another has been the basis for a genre of cinema that has been popular for more than a century. From the figure of Max Schreck creeping across the screen in F.W. Murnau’s 1922 film Nosferatu to the zombies that populate the films of George Romero and Danny Boyle to the darkly existentialist qualities of the films made by the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch, filmmakers have explored every facet of what it means to be afraid.

One type of fear that is as pungent as it is realistic is the threat posed by "The Other." Simply stated, The Other is anything—or anyone—that we think will cause us harm. It could be a ruthless killer (say Robert Mitchum in Cape Fear or the parasitic creature in Alien). It could be a murderous or vengeful mob (as in your typical zombie flick or a drama such as To Kill a Mockingbird).

Or, as Romanian filmmaker Cristian Mungiu suggests in his film R.M.N., it could be someone, or a group of someones, whom we see as a menace to our way of life. Outsiders, say, who we don’t think share our tribal beliefs—and, therefore, aren’t welcome.

It would be easy, then, to categorize R.M.N. as a simple exercise in such fear-linked bias. But what Mungiu puts on the screen has so much more to say about the human condition, especially as we see matters playing out across the world in the year 2023.

R.M.N., which is set mostly in a small village in the Transylvania region of Romania, begins with two important scenes. In one, a young boy named Rudi (played by Mark Blenyesi) sees something on his way to school—something so shocking that it causes him to lose the ability to speak.

Meanwhile, Rudi’s father Matthias (a hulking, glowering presence played by Marin Grigore) is working in a German slaughterhouse. When he is disrespected by his foreman, Matthias brutally head-butts the man—and then flees, making his way back to his Transylvania home.

Life in the village isn’t easy for Matthias or anyone else, including his estranged wife (played by Macrina Bârlădeanu) and his lover Csilla (played by Judith State). Many of the townspeople, like Matthias, have gone elsewhere for work. Which makes it difficult for the owner of a local bakery to hire anyone because most villagers refuse to work for the minimum wages she is offering.

Even when Csilla, the bakery manager, posts job openings, two weeks go by without anyone local responding. So to qualify for a grant from the European Union, Csilla and the owner decide to bring in outside workers.

And that starts the problems, many if not most of which have been festering for years if not decades. Problems that pit the native Romanians against the town’s ethnic Hungarians and both against anyone new who invades their community—so-called "gypsies" (or Roma) in the past, and now three workers from Sri Lanka.

While prejudice, which threatens to evolve into violence, is writer-director Mungiu’s main theme, R.M.N. isn’t nearly that straightforward. Matthias stays with Ana and Rudi while lusting after Csilla, and his love for his son is countered by his insistence that Ana is emasculating the boy. Matthias’ father is suffering from some malady affecting his brain, and at one point is given an MRI (which is what Romanians refer to as R.M.N.).

And then there are the bears, which are what a French researcher has been sent to count and which, ultimately, hold both a larger meaning both for the community and the magically realistic manner in which Mungiu ends his film.

Throughout, Mungiu documents village life, from festivals to school concerts to one particularly impressive 15-minute single-take sequence in which the villagers debate what to do about the Sri Lankans. Clueless to anything but his own needs, Matthias tries to ingratiate himself to Csilla even as she tries to make the village see the sense in what the bakery is trying to do.

Mungiu offers up no real answers to the questions he raises. But he clearly outlines problems that involve far more than one small village, problems that are inextricably linked with the vast depths both of anxiety and of fear.

For Spokane Public Radio, I’m Dan Webster.


Movies 101 host Dan Webster writes about movies and more for

Related Content
  • If you thought “Hereditary” was weird or “Midsommar” was too long, those films’ director, Ari Aster, proves you haven’t seen anything yet. Nathan Weinbender says Aster’s latest, “Beau Is Afraid,” is a three-hour descent into paranoia and madness… and it’s brilliant. If you like that sort of thing.
  • “Showing Up” is a perfect Kelly Reichardt film, though that isn’t likely to please every moviegoer, Dan Webster says in his review.