The climactic scene in Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu’s “R.M.N.” is a jaw-droppingly ugly town meeting. Almost everyone in the tiny Transylanian village of Recia Recfalva have shown up in the community hall to give vent to every prejudice, ignorance and almost comically hypocritical thought in their heads.
“We got rid of the Gypsies, now this?” “I’ve got nothing against those people, as long as they stay in their own country.” We’ve got to “think of our historic community,” the local priest says, joining in.
The “natives” don’t want “foreigners” hired, with E.U. backing, at the last going concern in this dying community — the factory bakery. Not that the natives want to work there. They leave the country for better paying jobs in Germany, France and elsewhere. Where they’re “foreigners.”
And that “historic community?” There’s a lot of yelling to “speak Romanian.” Because maybe half of them are native Hungarian. Others trace their lineage to Germany or Luxemberg or wherever, clinging to that heritage even if their ancesters migrated here 700 years before.
These xenophobes are ranting, starting anti-immigrant Facebook groups and can’t properly identify just who is looking back at them in the mirror. “Lacking self-awareness” has rarely been better illustrated in a movie.
Mungiu, most famous for “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” has taken his time getting us to the outburst. He’s introduced us to Mathias (Marin Grigore), a beefy local who works in a sheep slaughterhouse in Germany until the day his supervisor shows his prejudice with a “F—–g lazy Gypsies” crack.
One head-butt later and non-Roma Mathias is thumbing his way back home, to his quaint and cute village in a scenic corner of the country, just before Christmas. He must deal with his aged sheep farmer, Papa Otto. His lover, the bakery manager Csilla (Judith Slate) is surprised at his return. His wife (Macrina Barladeanu) didn’t expect him to come back. Ever.
And their little boy, Rudi (Mark Edward Blenyesi), has been frightened by something in the woods on his way to school. He’s eight and living in silent terror. He won’t speak and sleeps in the bed with his mother, Ana.
Mathias will walk him to school, lecture him on fear and try all sorts of primitive, brutish things to toughen him up.
“People who feel pity die first,” he says, in subtitled Romanian (and there’s Hungarian and French, and English in the film as well). “I want you to die last.”
And amid all these personal issues, the bakery hires three Sri Lankans to fill jobs no local will take. Neither the owner (Orsolya Moldován) nor the cultured manager and string octet cellist Csilla can see what’s coming.
The film’s title is a pun, as Mungiu noticed the similarity of his homeland’s abbreviation with a brain scan procedure. Whatever tolerance and acceptance the locals show to each other and to the newcomers, what’s beneath that is what counts.
Ancient hatreds, historic cultural feuds that are practically genetic in origin seem to bowl over reason and make one and all blind to the hypocrisy they’re living under. Even the priest may pay lip service to “all God’s children” and push back a bit, but when belligerant locals refuse to let the Catholic immigrants into the church, he lets them.
“R.M.N.” is grounded in its sense of place and allegoric in its messaging. The Europe-wide backlash against E.U. mobility, “shared values” and tolerance merely uncovered prejudices that have always been there and were papered over in Brussels.
A young French conservationist here to “count the bears” finds himself speaking up for The One Europe experiment, and shouted down. The “bears” have always been there, and now is when they’re breaking out their claws, in increasingly totalitarian Hungary, Romania, Poland and Britain.
It’s a fascinating and utterly engrossing film, immersing us in this world, fretting over what we can see coming before the principals do, and relating it to the xenophobia and bigotry out in the open in America, just as it is in backward, rural Transylvania.
“Intolerance” is a “family value” the world over.
Rating: unrated, violence, nudity
Cast: Marin Grigore, Judith State, Macrina Barladeanu, Orsolya Moldován and József Bíró
Credits: Scripted and directed by Cristian Mungiu. An IFC release.
Running time: 2:07