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  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World (2024)

It’s impossible to predict the rhythm and anarchic, punk rock nature of a Radu Jude film. They’re often strung together by common themes involving Romania’s violent past, problematic present and potentially doom-laden future; posing as the picturesque backdrop to what is happening in the foreground and middle-ground of his films. He also loves long, wordy titles that suit the ever-flowing themes and mediums of his films that feel like collages of not just his country, but the world at large. I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018) and Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021) (my review for that can be found here) are his most recent examples of doing such things, and with his latest socioeconomic work in Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, Radu Jude is as angry and as entertaining as ever, proving himself to be a true auteur with a singular voice impossible to replicate.

A black comedy told in what is essentially two parts; part 1 follows a day in the life of production assistant Angela (played by the show-stopping Ilinca Manolache in what is her third feature with Jude, but first time as his lead) as she drives all over Bucharest running errands and compiling applicant interview videos for a workplace safety video. The second part follows the actual shoot with one of the chosen applicants. 

Radu Jude isn't a subtle filmmaker by any means. He is able to express some subtlety in his films enough where it’s not so on the nose, but Jude works best when his anger paints everything as a matter of fact, gunning straight to the point as he creates a collage of ideas in which he is still trying to figure out how it all fits together. It sounds like messy filmmaking but ultimately has the medium feeling as gutturally honest and unpredictable as you could ever hope it to be. It makes for some truly exciting and subversive filmmaking – combining the revolutionary anger and experimentation of Godard with the smell of scorched Earth a Molotov cocktail leaves in its wake.

As mentioned before, he isn’t afraid to expose the awful, brushed-aside history of his country, but he isn’t afraid to also turn the mirror onto the rest of the world as his films showcase universal problems regardless of where we live - touching heavily on class, gender and racial divide that proves we as humans, are mostly shit. Although our protagonist’s world of story takes place within the seemingly specific film industry, Radu Jude uses it as a stepping stone to talk about exploitation as a whole on the little guy, both in life and death, touching on capitalism playing its hand in preying on the poor and desperate, cleverly comparing the past with the present to illustrate a broader picture of the problem – something with which Jude obsessively does in all his films, creating a contextual landscape that always pays off in eye-opening finales.

Angela spends most of the film gathering candidates who suffered from workplace injuries while working at the multi-national corporation funding the video, leaving them disabled and unemployed. They tell their stories of inadequate work equipment, unsafe environments as well as being severely overworked, causing them to have said accidents. But due to the nature of the video, the company wants them to play as a warning for other workers, effectively covering up the why’s and how’s of their accident and reducing them down to “look what happened because I was irresponsible". It juxtaposes perfectly with Angela's situation as she herself is on the verge of an accident due to overworking for pay which is not worth the trouble. “If it happens, it’s because Romanians let it happen” is a response given to Angela by one the corporation's executives (played by the legendary Nina Hoss) while being driven around as they talk about the shittiness of Romania's position in Europe. It feels like a vicious cycle, and this could be applied to any developing country as both desperation and corruption of our supposed leaders allow for the more developed countries to exploit so freely. There's an extraordinary 30-odd minute single, static shot of one of the candidates and his family as they are finally on set for the workplace video. Radu Jude’s last two films in Barbarians and Bad Luck Banging's contextual marathons in the first two acts always lead to thrilling and ultimately sobering final acts, and here it's no different as the film’s main overarching theme of exploitation arrives at its final destination. Treated like cattle, sitting and standing in the rain, skewered on changing their stories to best suit the company's narrative, these poor individuals are reduced to props, cattle to be prodded and locked up. What was meant to be a snapshot of reality, of people telling their story, quickly becomes fiction as the crew and representatives doctor and alter the reality of the situation. “If it happens, it’s because Romanians let it happen”. They have no choice but to be cattle in this situation, from the subjects to the director himself.

Like Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Radu Jude’s previous work, Jude loves contextualizing the world of his story, the reality of it all. He paints a chipped portrait of the city, its differing kinds of people and how those play a major part in our protagonist’s mindset, journey and, if there is one, eventual arc. Usually, his films don’t have a defined arc for his protagonist, just a gradual confirmation of things for what they already know to be true. And it’s worth noting that the protagonists in his last three films are women as well, with sexism, hypocrisy and rape culture being key themes and obstacles for his characters. Here, it’s no different as Angela deals with background characters worsening her daily ordeal of being an overworked, overtired and underpaid woman in a man’s world. You can tell a lot about a city by simply just sitting in traffic. Here, the film's most real moments are captured, painting a real world filled with the mundanity of sitting in traffic. There is some wonderful "blink and you'll miss it" performance moments scattered about here as Angela glances at the camera from time to time as she sits in boredom, gets lost and deals with asshole drivers encroaching around her. It really lets me feel like I am right there with her, dealing with the endless bullshit being flung at her.

With the help of a filter, Angela shoots content in between all of this as a character named Bobita, turning her into a grotesque bald male, sporting the thickest monobrow and thin facial hair in the shape of a Van Dyke. Inspired by the king of toxic masculinity himself in far-right influencer Andrew Tate (it looks like him and of course, let’s not forget he was arrested in Romania for charges of sexual aggression and sex trafficking), Ilinca Manolache created this vulgar, extreme caricature as a response to incels, sexism and rape culture that is so abundant in not just Romania but the world over (worth noting that it's her own original creation). And as the film goes on, we see her constantly encountering these kinds of people who randomly call her slut as they tell her they’re going to fuck her to either teach her a lesson or because they think she will like it. Bobita is vile, depressing and wildly entertaining, making it the perfect match for Radu Jude's sensibilities, a filmmaker able to take this extreme caricature and amplify his own extreme observations of both his homeland and the world to such effect.

As mentioned before, Jude is obsessed with history and comparing it to the present. After all, that's what we should do right? Learn from the past so that we may better ourselves. He did that in Anselm! (2015), he did that in Barbarians and he of course did that in Bad Luck Banging in particular, creating a video essay chapter dedicated to Romania and the alphabet, with each letter representing mostly negative aspects of Romania’s past and how that bleeds into the present. Do Not Expect isn’t just a film of two parts as mentioned before. Excerpts from Lucian Bratu’s 1981 film Angela Merge Mai Departe (or translated as Angela Goes On) play a part in it as well. Not only does the protagonist share the same name as Ilinca Manolache's character, she also spends most of the time driving around (here as a taxi driver), painting a portrait of the same country from a different time, one that had Romania under cruel dictator Nicolae Ceaușesc's thumb. Jude switches between styles regularly in Do Not Expect. The present, or let’s call it reality in this context, is in grainy black and white, while the Bobita content, Angela Goes On, the work safety video and a surprisingly somber silent montage all play in colour. It’s important to differentiate each one of these realities from one another as it creates a fine contrast between all of them. The colour segments pull us away from Angela and our present reality, creating a world that feels completely fictional. As mentioned before, Jude loves to delve into the past and draw direct comparisons with our present. At one point, characters talk about The Lumière Brothers and their film Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895), which is one of the first films ever made (many consider it the first true motion picture). They talk about how in the span of two takes, the film went from being a documentary, a true observation of real-life, to fiction. The first take involved workers leaving the factory, but because they didn’t like how it looked, they asked them to do it again, blurring the lines of what is real and what isn’t. And by switching to colour throughout the film, these moments could be seen as fiction (even though the whole film is ironically fiction), especially that of the shoot with the applicants waiting in the rain as the crew and executives decide just how much of their truth is shown. 

Jude also exposes the reality in more “blink and you’ll miss it” moments from the 1981 film – slowing things down frame by frame as he exposes the truth of what is happening in Nicolae Ceaușescu Romania at the time: people lining up for food as well as officials keeping an eye on the filming process, etc. - feeling like the filmmaker intentionally slid them in there to show what is really happening between the lines. It's jarring but so effective. Jude does such a great job in contrasting present Angela to 1981 Angela in this manner, showcasing just how different but also how similar their realities are. It’s another case of the raging honesty he has with his country’s past, present and future. In what is one of the film’s most effective transitions between these films, or these realities, Angela tells the visiting executive about the history of the Palace of Parliament, a massive megastructure built under Nicolae Ceaușesc rule with which many lives were lost in the process. She mentions how a neighbourhood used to be there before it was destroyed to build it. Cut to the 1981 film of Angela driving through that neighbourhood, with no signs of the monstrosity that is the palace. Fun fact: Ilinca Manolache played a tour guide in Bad Luck Banging, one that talks about the structure in question to a group of tourists. Full circle moment.

Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World is unpredictable, hilarious, vulgar, combative and appropriately teeming with fury. It's another subversive anarchic masterpiece from who I regard as one of the great provocateurs in cinema right now. It's a film overflowing with ideas and observations that are at times overwhelming, but it all just works - never losing control of itself. That's also thanks to the performance from Ilinca Manolache which is grounded in both sincerity and extreme vulgarity, allowing for the film's countless ideas and messages to scream as clearly as they do - creating an iconic heroine for the ages in the process. Often a country right in the middle of bigger empires over the centuries, The Romanian New Wave has become one of the most important focal points in world cinema – rich in necessarily disruptive talents that aren’t afraid to skewer and provoke.  

Where you can watch it: MUBI (Worldwide).

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