One of Eastern Europe’s most acclaimed filmmakers, Romania’s Cristian Mungiu, is back at the Cannes Film Festival with a dark story about how little time it takes people to turn on their neighbors.
His Ceauescu-era drama about illegal abortion “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days” took home the top prize in 2007 at the World’s Top Cinema Showcases.
Mungiu also won Best Screenplay for 2012’s “Beyond the Hills” and Best Director for “Graduation” in 2016.
His new film, “RMN,” sees him race to the Palme d’Or again, and the 54-year-old told AFP it explores the collapse of hopes for a new era of peace after the end of the Cold War.
“I try to speak about human nature and the state of the world today, and about the feeling that things are not going in the right direction as we have today,” he said.
“Things are ending somehow and everyone feels this concern,” he said, “at least not over the ongoing war in Ukraine.”
RMN is the Romanian acronym for an MRI that, when scanning the brain, can reveal fascinating mysteries about how humans are wired, Mungiu said.
The film explores the concerns of a multiracial community in Transylvania, a historical crossroads of migration and competing empires that have left Romanian, Hungarian and German speakers living together to this day.
It is inspired by a story widely covered by Romanian media in 2020, when a village in Transylvania stood up against a local bakery for hiring two Sri Lankans.
In the film, foreign men are recruited into a bread factory dependent on European Union grants and offered minimum-wage jobs that have long been left unfulfilled because wages were too low for the locals.
A manager tries to care for displaced Sri Lankans, who do not speak the local language and are struggling to integrate.
A violent attack leads to a confrontation with the police, the village priest, and finally a town meeting in which hysterical fear is transmitted about outsiders.
Mungiu said that his aim is to “mirror the instincts and cruelty deep inside us as human animals and to see that those who are neighbors today are capable of anything tomorrow – rape, murder and torture someone else.” Just because someone told me this is the enemy.”
The film won warm reviews with Guardian adding that it was “severely associated with procrastination and unhappiness in Europe that goes unrestricted and unintentional.”
US movie website IndieWire called it another “moral thriller” by Mungiu, which “draws harder and harder on the tension between the complex socioeconomic forces and the simple human emotions they inspire.”
Mungiu is part of Romania’s New Wave of Filmmakers, tracking the realities of the post-communist transition, which has won awards at international festivals for the past two decades.
He admitted at Cannes that those acclaimed films have been little popular at home.
“(Romanians) don’t really like what we do – they don’t really understand why someone likes it elsewhere,” he said. “But for us, it’s really important that we managed to create a movement of some sort that is now quite complex – with quite a variety of filmmakers expressing themselves.
“At some point I think it will be considered something good that we have also done for Romania’s culture,” he said.
The Palme d’Or will be awarded on 28 May.
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