Cristian Mungiu's Cannes Film Festival entry "R.M.N." is set in an unnamed mountainous Transylvanian village in Romania, but the conflicts of ethnocentricity, racism and nationalism that permeate the multi-ethnic town could take place almost anywhere.
Of all the films competing for the top Palme d'Or prize at Cannes, none may be quite as of the moment as "R.M.N." The movie, using a Romanian microcosm, captures the us-vs-them battles that have played out across Europe and beyond, wherever immigration and national identities have collided.
Mungiu, the celebrated Romanian filmmaker of the landmark 2007 abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days," has long been accustomed to his films being written off as grim portraits of a faraway Eastern Europe. It's a caricature he rejects, especially when it comes to "R.M.N."
RMN is the Romanian abbreviation for an MRI, which, when scanning the brain, can reveal fascinating secrets of how human beings are wired, Mungiu told Agence France-Presse.
"Whenever journalists interpret that it's yet again another somber painting of this country, well, it's not about that country — or not only about that country," Mungiu told reporters Sunday. "It's good to check your own elections in your own countries."
When a local bakery in need of workers — most of the town's men have gone abroad to find work — hires a few men from Sri Lanka, a Romanian village's already complicated mix of ethnicities — Romanian, Hungarian, German — turn increasingly volatile.
But "R.M.N.," which features a powerhouse 17-minute single shot of a contentious town meeting, from the start teases at the question of who, exactly, is an outsider and who gets to define tradition. In the end, even the village's local bears could be said to have their say.
"What is tradition? We do something because someone did this before. But why precisely do we do is this?" Mungiu said. "If you dig deep down, it's a way of fighting back the fear you have of something. It's a way of unleashing these violent impulses that you have."
"I'm sorry to say this, but we are a very, very violent species of animal. And we need very, very little to identify an enemy as other," added Mungiu. "You can see this today in the war in Ukraine."
The Palme d'Or will be awarded May 28.