RMN review – racial tensions mount in a small Transylvanian town

<span>Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Collection Christophel/Alamy

Hate is not something that erupts suddenly in the dour but powerful latest picture by the Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days). Rather, in this examination of the viscous trickle of bad blood in a small Transylvanian village, it grows incrementally at first malign and cancerous, until it has metastasised into every part of the community. RMN – the title is the Romanian abbreviation for an MRI – fitting for a picture that takes a scalpel to the sickness at the heart of its society – is inspired by an actual event. In 2020, xenophobia towards newly arrived south-east Asian migrant workers consumed the residents of the Transylvanian town of Ditrău. It would be easy to paint the village as a community of monsters. Still, while you probably wouldn’t rush to relocate there, Mungiu is less interested in blanket condemnation and more in excavating the roots of the anger that, he suggests, run generations deep.

Related: ‘Audiences don’t want to be challenged’: director Cristian Mungiu on exploring bigotry – and giving up film

Mungiu has always been a director who favours a slow-burn approach to his storytelling. Here, he keeps a wary distance from his characters. Don’t expect emotionally charged extreme closeups, even of the main characters – bread factory manager Csilla (Judith State), her brutish on-off boyfriend Matthias (Marin Grigore). This measured, contemplative approach works supremely well, gradually tightening its grip as the tensions in the community mount. The space that Mungiu leaves, both physically, with his immaculately composed wide shots, and temporally, in the unhurried plotting, allows for a satisfying complexity, and an eventual swerve into dreamlike symbolism. Unfortunately, this final element is perhaps the least successful moment in the film, muddying the acutely pessimistic clarity of what comes before.