Greetings again from the darkness. Welcome to ‘Hypocriteville”. Or the town of Bigotry. Or Xenophobia City. Regardless how vile each of these labels might be, they each fit in the Transylvania community at the heart of writer-director Christian Mungiu’s latest film. Of course, as with most derogatory labels, the accused would never admit the shoe fits, and paraphrasing Shakespeare, would likely protest too much. Mungiu’s brilliant 2007 Palme d’Or winner 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 2 DAYS was inexplicably not nominated for a Best Foreign Language Oscar, and he proves again his unique mastery of the medium.
Our introduction to Matthias (Marin Grigore) occurs as he violently head butts his rude supervisor after being disrespected. Matthisas then returns to his home community where he encounters Ana (Macrina Barladeanu), the mother of his young son. Rudi (Mark Edward Blenyesi) is 8 years old, and he has recently witnessed something in the forest that has frightened him into silence. Ana does what she can to comfort him, while Matthias pushes him to ‘man up’ and face his fears. Matthias also re-connects with his former lover, Csilla (Judith State), who is the manager of the local bakery in town.
Csilla is working diligently to hire more employees at the bakery in order to qualify for grant money. The problem is that no locals want to work for minimum wage. Instead, many locals head to Germany and other areas for higher paying jobs, and the conflict arises when Csilla hires a couple of men from Sri Lanka. It’s at this point where this mishmash of citizens begins their racist rants … this despite being a mixed community where many friends and family member have headed out to find jobs in other areas. “Not in my backyard” is a phrase used so often in communities fighting against some cause, and that’s exactly what’s happened here.
Mungiu’s excellent film peaks with a 15 minute (or more) single take scene – a town hall meeting where a couple of dozen citizens speak out showing their small-mindedness. It’s painful to watch, yet also mesmerizing. Csilla and Matthias are front and center for the scene and both are superb, especially Csilla’s facial reactions and Matthias’ cowering (this after flaunting his powerful masculinity for so much of the film). By the time this scene concludes, this viewer was mentally exhausted while also being in awe. It’s this reaction which makes that final scene so confounding and seemingly out of place. Mungiu taps into the human behavior that we so often question these days, and he does so in a way that never preaches or judges. It’s truly exceptional filmmaking … except that final scene.
**NOTE: In Romania, an MRI is RMN (the film’s title)
Opens April 28, 2023