This three-letter film title looks strange, but they are the best representation of this complex and uncomfortable movie. RMN is the internationally recognised abbreviation denoting Romania. Written and directed by Cristian Mungiu, R.M.N speaks of the serious and dark side of contemporary Romanian society – anti-immigration resentment, xenophobia, and deep-rooted patriarchy.
R.M.N starts with a highly unsettling scene in which many sheep are hanged and castrated by emotionless workers in a slaughterhouse. This scene establishes a spooky mood for the film, suggesting that it will be low-key yet violent. Next, the protagonist, Matthias, a slaughterhouse worker, quits his job to take care of his son who becomes speechless after witnessing something terrible in the woodland. He is back at home in a village in Transylvania, a multi-ethnic region comprising ethnic Romanians, Hungarians, Germans, and Roma. The main plot then finally unfolds. A large bakery in the village recruits two Sri Lankan workers to apply for EU funding and compensate for the lack of local labour. The villagers want to kick the migrants away and a fierce protest erupts.
Anti-immigrant is clearly a central theme of the movie. The plot is a powerful microcosm of the current wave of anti-immigration in Romania and Europe. The number of immigrants into EU countries rose massively by over 50% in the past two years, and non-EU citizens now account for 5.1% of the total labour market. This striking trend is mainly driven by the serious brain drain across Europe, which is repeatedly mentioned by the bakery owners in the film. Thanks to high inflation and low pay at home, more European young people choose to work abroad nowadays. The EU hence grants funding to companies recruiting migrants to alleviate the labour shortage.
The influx of migrants, which is a result of the local economic hardship, ironically triggers an outcry of public animosity. In the movie, the villagers claim that migrants are ‘gypsies’ who only bring diseases that make their bread unsafe. Migrants’ families will also settle in the village, conquering the nation and damaging Romanian culture. In fact, these justifications are commonly employed by many far-right and anti-immigrant groups in Europe nowadays, especially against Asian or Islamic migrants.
It is remarkable that the film profoundly investigates the xenophobic sentiment by intertwining this phenomenon with the idea of manhood and patriarchy. Matthias and his wife have an intense conflict over parenting. Matthias insists that their son must overcome his fear by going into the woodland alone and using guns, whereas his wife thinks they should accompany their son and teach him crocheting, which is conventionally considered feminist. Matthias dominates all of their arguments and appears demanding whenever he talks with women. He also refuses to say ‘I love you’ in Romania because it is shameful for a man.
His patriarchal mindset is comparable to the sense of cultural superiority of the Romanians, who argue that foreigners only bring harm and purity of the Romanian race must be maintained. Elevated from a household to a national level, a patriarchal family structure can be the foundation of public xenophobia as it encourages the public to stratify different social groups.
Matthias firmly believes that men must be masculine and skills like using guns and surviving in the wild must be passed down through generations. As a father and husband, he should determine everything in the family. His patriarchal mindset is comparable to the sense of cultural superiority of the Romanians, who argue that foreigners only bring harm and purity of the Romanian race must be maintained. Elevated from a household to a national level, a patriarchal family structure can be the foundation of public xenophobia as it encourages the public to stratify different social groups. Director Cristian Mungiu puts the seemingly irrelevant storylines about the anti-immigration protest and Matthias’ family life in parallel, subtly illustrating the cultural root of the hostile racism in Romania and Europe.
In the second half of the film, the audience may start wondering why Matthias is the protagonist. He is always busy ‘helping’ his son, dealing with his complex romantic relationships with two women, and taking care of a heavily ill town priest called Papa Otto. These three storylines unfold with the anti-immigration movement at the same time, but they are all unconnected to one another on the surface. Staying away from the conflicts, Matthias never expresses his opinions on the migrants. While such an ambiguous plot development may leave the audience in confusion, it brings a strong bitter aftertaste that keeps the audience thinking for a long time.
What terrible thing Matthias’ son sees in the woodland remains a mystery for nearly the entire film, but Matthias always brings a gun with him to kill this invisible enemy. It is exactly how the villagers witch-hunt the migrants and see them as imaginary enemies, paradoxically exaggerating that they will rule over the village and destroy it with atomic bombs.
In my opinion, the complication of Matthias’ son with the woodland and Papa Otto’s sickness artistically symbolise the chaotic paranoia against migrants in the village. What terrible thing Matthias’ son sees in the woodland remains a mystery for nearly the entire film, but Matthias always brings a gun with him to kill this invisible enemy. It is exactly how the villagers witch-hunt the migrants and see them as imaginary enemies, paradoxically exaggerating that they will rule over the village and destroy it with atomic bombs.
What about Papa Otto? Papa Otto needs to go to the city to have his brain scanned with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanners. The MRI technology is underpinned by the nuclear magnetic resonance principle, known asrezonanță magnetică nucleară in Romanian. Again, its abbreviation is RMN. Matthias scrolls through Papa Otto’s scans and examines them again and again. The brain scan is a metaphor for the director’s approach to the film, which is a bleak diagnosis of the diseased Romanian social organ. It is not surgery since the director does not intervene and provide a solution at the end of the film. Yet, he cruelly reveals the despairing cancer of intolerance and inequity among races and genders in Romanian and European society.
R.M.N is a sombre downbeat movie with a disconcerting and obscure finale. It is a depressing representation of Romania and the EU countries, which are struggling with economic downfall, immigration crisis, and growing racial hatred. What is the future of the European Union, a supranational organisation which once glamourised diversity and internationalism?