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'RMN' director Christian Mungi on xenophobia and the dangers of 'politically correct' filmmaking

Romanian director Christian Mungi is a master of slow drama. His discreet cinematic style—using wide-angle master shots and long takes, allowing the action to unfold unedited within the frame—was used to explore complex, hot-button social issues—his abortion 2006 Palme d’Or winner 4 months 3 weeks and 2 days , status 2005’s Graduation Ceremony Corruption in — With calm, almost scientific precision.

Mungiu’s latest RMN takes this scientific approach literally. The title is the Romanian acronym for MRI, and one of the characters undergoes an MRI in the movie, which will be released in the US in April 30, is Mungiu’s cinematic brain scan of his country, revealing layers of disease – racial, social, political, most importantly What’s more is emotion — buried in the national spirit.

The plot is inspired by true events and takes place during the Christmas holidays in a small village in Transylvania. Abattoir worker Matthias (Marin Grigore) returns home from Germany to rekindle love with an old lover Sylla (Judith State) who manages a local bakery. But the arrival of new factory workers from Sri Lanka has disrupted the community. Tensions have risen as locals, most of whom are actually Hungarians, the country’s ethnic minority, argue with Roma families who used to live there over whether foreigners should be kicked out, as they were a few years ago.

For Mungiu, RMN is an attempt to understand the rise of racism, xenophobia and right-wing populism, from Inside: By watching and listening without judging those who express outrageous opinions. “You can’t start hoping to cure a public attitude until you name it and are willing to talk about it and understand why it happened.”

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The so-called Romanian New Wave has started in but in 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days after you won the Palme d’Or, a film that will not only take your career, but the entire movement to the next level. Years have passed , how do you think the focus of Romanian cinema has changed? From an outsider’s point of view, the first wave of films seems to be about Nicolae Ceausescu’s communist period. New Romanian films, including your most recent RMN, seem to focus more on current events.

Well, I don’t think we were talking, even then, especially about communism, I think we were at that age , when you relive your adolescence, or, you know, your youth. We’re making films that are nostalgic about what we’ve been through. Of course, they have a communist background, but we’re talking about our experiences. If you remember, Corneliu Porumboiu’s first movie, the 000 : Bucharest Edom ], this has nothing to do with communism. Mr. Lazarescu of Cristi Puiu’s second film [2005 Death of ] is not communism at all. They’re modern, and they’re talking about the long-term effects of communism on people, and the way the country was shaped and the way the people were shaped.

I don’t think the New Wave gets so much attention because it talks about communism. But mostly because we speak in different ways, in different cinematic ways. I think it’s an official thing, and it’s dragging that attention down our path. This way of making the film with very, very long takes is deliberate. Behind the New Wave, there is a lot of thinking about the limitations of cinema as an art and its specificity. That’s why we do such long shots, not because we like master shots, but because there is temporal integrity, and the film can survive, provided you don’t use editing.

I think we’re inspiring each other to really think deeply about film, to take it very seriously. It made no sense for us to make popular films, because by then, Romanian cinemas would have ceased to exist and we would not have any audience. So we’re directly focused on making movies that are important to the history of cinema, not the present. We feel that the way you make a film is as important as the story you want to tell.

I think the movement is growing very well. It brings into focus some filmmakers who actually have a point of view and something to say about the film. But, like any wave, time passes and even this novel style can age and become a norm. It no longer surprises anyone. So now it is important for each of these authors to reinvent themselves and find something fresh to express in terms of subject and style. Such is the fate of waves, wave after wave. And you know, there’s another wave coming, even if it’s not clear where it’s going to come from.

But these filmmakers, these individuals, survived. We were considered a wave because we all came out at the same time, we were almost the same age, and we were the first filmmakers to express ourselves after the fall of communism in Romania. But now, after all these years, we see which voices are strong enough to go on and tell something.

This is the hardest thing in the movie. It is not difficult to make a movie that can surprise people once. But it’s very complicated to make the next film, and ultimately create this personal style of film. And I think Corneliu told me at some point — he’s checked — that apparently, statistically, most directors make two or three films in their lifetime. So, if you do two or three movies that really get noticed, that’s great.

Another good thing is that the new generation of Romanian filmmakers is deliberately trying to be as different from the [New Wave] as possible. this is normal.

RMN Courtesy of Mobra Films 2023

Where did the idea for RMN come from?

From a true story. The real story is very close to what you see in the movie. There is this small village in an area mainly inhabited by Hungarians. And, you would imagine, in an area where a minority lives, people are more sympathetic to another minority that comes in. but it is not the truth. From their point of view, this is: we don’t have any animosity towards these people, but this is a very poor area, and we have made huge sacrifices to stay here and try to grow this community, to preserve our heritage, And you – the owner of the bakery – violated the rules by bringing foreigners into the neighborhood.

Of course, one of the reasons people behave so badly is the color of their skin. But it is also true that when this scandal arose in Romania, the wave of sympathy for these men was overwhelming. People and factory owners everywhere wrote and said: We’ll hire them, we’ll bring them into our communities, where they can work.

It occurred to me that the story of this film is very, very relevant to the state of the world today. Even though it’s happening in Transylvania, Romania, I have a feeling that it speaks to the way we behave today on these very hot issues of xenophobia, and the truth. Ultimately, this is a movie about the huge gap between what we think and what we say.

Last year I screened this film in Cannes and many other places, and a lot of people came up to me and said: This could happen in my country, we are doing brilliantly. It’s just that people don’t dare to talk about these issues openly anymore. It’s important to me to see if there’s still enough freedom in the film that we can talk about the elephant in the room, about the feeling that we all know a lot of people think that way, but we act like they don’t exist. We cannot cure these problems unless we try to address them directly. You cannot begin to hope to cure a public attitude until you name it and are willing to talk about it, understand why it happened.

You have a very empathetic way of portraying all the characters in the movie, even the ones who make horrible, racist or Xenophobic characters.

The most important conflict in the movie, for me, is the internal conflict, not the external one, The good part of us, feeling empathy for others, and the animal part of us that makes us think of other people as potential enemies who come to steal our world, our food, our horses or whatever. This is a battle we need to work hard to win. But before you can win it, you need to talk about it, expose it, see how much of it comes from your intuition and causality, and how much of it is causality.

An important step is to listen to those who are unhappy with what happened today. Today’s migration doesn’t look like 1, 000 Many years ago, when a group of horsemen rode across the mountains. Now they come by plane, trying to find work. But for many, the feeling is the same: this is someone who doesn’t belong here. This is the result of globalization. Many people who live in small, very traditional communities feel: I didn’t ask for this globalization, but I have to pay a personal price for decisions I don’t have a say in. The rate of change was too great for them. They need more time. I think we need to talk to them patiently and understand why they feel that way before we label them sinners or xenophobes or whatever.

In this particular case, it seems to them that the villagers are not hostile to foreigners. They think it’s okay to be xenophobic to local Roma. That’s what they’re trying to protect their community from.

That’s why I think this story is worth telling because they don’t see what they did wrong. Also, people don’t say it, but no one really wants to live in a neighborhood next to Roma. After Cannes I was in 17 different villages The film was shown in small towns, and people agreed in principle that tolerance is a good thing. But when things narrow down to you personally, everyone would prefer to live on streets without Roma. There is a huge gap between the principles we all agree on and what actually happens. It’s important to engage in this conversation and see where these stereotypes come from.

You also point out that apparently “nice” people, like factory owners, are nice to foreigners, but somehow On the other hand, their labor is also exploited.

Well, I think there’s a tendency, especially in movie theaters, to oversimplify things. There is a tendency to think that filmmakers should include their status as citizens in the films they make. That’s exactly what I don’t think we should do. My position as a citizen on this issue is not in the film. I think movies should ask questions that are important to society at the moment. But I also think filmmakers should avoid imposing their views on you. My endeavor is to try to understand why things happen the way they do, why people behave the way they do, and do everything possible to respect the truth and the integrity of reality. Also officially, which is why I made a huge effort to shoot without cutting. But morally, the idea is that no matter who you are, I don’t want to be a judge, I want to make these people’s arguments.

But it does have a lot of hypocrisy at the end, even edited in the way the movie is discussed. I have two kinds of Q&As: the formal ones where I talk to people on stage, and the ones when I leave the movie theater where people will talk to me privately. Suddenly, they start to really speak their minds.

You can see what this hypocrisy does to us. In France or Italy, you see the effects of this hypocrisy, how populists use it to their advantage. There’s no point in trying to ignore what people think or claiming they shouldn’t think that way. Problems will not be resolved this way.

That’s why we end up with all these big surprises when people vote. When populist parties and the far right succeed, people say, “Oh my God, how is that possible?” Chances are it’s because you haven’t heard these people, you haven’t been part of the real conversation. A conversation begins when you listen to the other person. You need to listen to him before explaining to him that his argument is invalid. If you stop him from talking, if you make all these rules, telling him, “Shut up, that’s politically incorrect, you can’t say that,” it’s not going to change his mind. The moment he has the freedom to express himself, he votes accordingly.

I don’t think this movie is argumentative, but the dialogue it starts is very argumentative. And it should be, because that’s what movies can do.

It seems that many people these days see art as the expression of an artist’s personal opinion or point of you become more Challenging to say: This is my job, this is not my opinion?

I choose to present reality as objectively as I can. This is my position as an artist. I don’t follow the tendency to say that my personal views and opinions are what count.

I think it’s more about asking questions, personal stories, you have to have an opinion, you have to take a stand. This is what Mathias understands, by the end of the movie, he cannot be neutral, he has to take sides. Even if you try to avoid it, you are responsible. You have personal responsibility. As a filmmaker, I try to signal to you, the audience, that you have this responsibility. You can’t just say: I don’t agree with the filmmaker, I don’t have the same opinion. The question is: where do you stand? Do you dare to speak out?

This kind of personal, critical judgment is difficult for people to develop today, because the Internet is full of fake news, and the avalanche of information is difficult to understand and difficult to listen to , it’s hard to question yourself, it’s hard to think: what would I do?

Many times, people are so used to saying the “right” thing that they won’t even admit what they really think in public. It’s a kind of schizophrenia. Here’s the response I’ve gotten from a lot of people: There’s a huge discrepancy between what people say publicly and what they think in private. I thought it would be fun to bring up what people really believed in the film, to show what they said in private when no one was around. Because that is the truth.

How did you make differently


, then, stylistically, with R.M.N. - Cannes Film Festival 4 months 3 weeks 2 days ?

The way I tell the movie is not that different. My style hasn’t changed much. I have used for 4 months , and the principle of one scene and one shot is still the same. A lot of the scenes here are relatively short, and the movie isn’t just made up of long stretches. But then, because I really wanted to respect the style, I also had the longest scene I’ve ever shot in a movie, about 18-18 Minutes didn’t cut it. Also different, I think I’ve become a master of my own style, so what I do now is try to make sure the style isn’t visible. I’m trying to make sure the style doesn’t distract you from actually watching the story. Because in the end, what matters is the effect the story has on you, the bystander. So I try to shoot in a fluid way—each shot leads to the next—so that people don’t notice how the film is made.

2023 European Shooting Star Judith State in 'R.M.N.'

@Mobra-Films 2016

How did you write that incredible, 05 – minute scene, town hall meeting, two women, the factory owner, and the manager, are arguing for the migrant workers while the other villagers are getting more and more aggressive towards them?

In this case, it’s easy for me. The long shot at the end of the film is almost a replica, a reenactment, of a real town hall meeting. It’s on the Internet. This is where the scandal started. Everyone in this small village thought it was a private conversation, but someone filmed it and posted it online the same day. And, suddenly, we have access to people saying what they really think, both privately and publicly. I translated it – because it’s Hungarian – but I didn’t have to invent much. You can just watch and you will notice and understand. It was important to me to present the arguments and perspectives of these people directly. Something about a lot of movies today that I really don’t like is that it has a sort of politically correct agenda. I mean, filmmakers of all ages are talking about the important issues of the day, says Diversity, but making sure everything is presented in the “right” way and being positive about how to address them. This goes against how I think about creativity.

Of course these films should do too, but for me artistic freedom means expressing things in a personal way. So there cannot be just one point of view, one political point of view. Art should suggest a million other points of view. I come from a country with very strict censorship. Today, it’s hard to talk about censorship, but I think there’s an active discrimination, active discrimination on very important moral issues. This active discrimination comes from the institutions that fund the films, and from the personal conscience of the filmmakers themselves. Everyone starts to agree on what story should be told and how it should be told. But in my opinion, it’s against what a movie should be. Movies need to be creative and fresh. It requires a different point of view. We need the strength to bear the political incorrectness of those we disagree with, and the strength to listen to a variety of viewpoints. This is where the true power of art lies.

The scene in front of the town hall expresses this. The townspeople come out of the church. They started walking towards City Hall. By the end, they were in lockstep. The march marks this shift, from being an individual with your own stand and point of view, to being part of a group and following a safe social mindset at a given moment. That’s why the characters of these two women are so important. They represent the need to talk about your own point of view, even if it’s contrary to other people’s.

IFC Films to be released in select US theaters in April RMC 08.



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