Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Nu aștepta prea mult de la sfârșitul lumii) seen at the BFI London Film Festival 2023
“It’s later than you think,” reads a sign attached to a clock with no hands, somewhere in the middle of Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Nu aștepta prea mult de la sfârșitul lumii). As its very title promises, this is a film with an apocalyptic theme, although if you are expecting all-engulfing explosions or epic disasters to mark its version of the world’s end, perhaps you had better read the title’s fine print. For this is a quiet apocalypse, where the dead do not so much rise as get dug up to make way for corporate buildings, and where individuals, even entire families, fall not to large-scale catastrophe, but to an inability to observe basic traffic laws and a lack of police to enforce them. As with his previous Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (2021), writer/director Radu Jude is presenting a city symphony in negative, as he guides us through Bucharest to expose all the jarring contradictions, economic disparities, disarming hypocrisies and heavy traffic of a nation constantly on the move but going nowhere.
Time certainly plays tricks here, as Jude keeps switching from Angela Raducanu (Ilinca Manolache) in the present (and in murky monochrome) as she endlessly travels the streets by car for her work as a film company’s PA and part-time Uber driver, to a different Angela (Dorina Lazar) in the Eighties (and in colour) also looking for fares – and maybe for love with customer Gyuri (László Miske) – in scenes repurposed wholesale from Lucian Bratu’s Angela merge mai departe (1981). Both women share a name, a vocation, and the same routes across the city and the gulf of time, allowing us to compare and contrast Bucharest’s changing face, as we see how much and how little substantive difference there is between Romania pre- and post-Ceasescu (who was violently deposed in 1989). The political system may have altered, but the corruption remains, with the poor and the dead always being moved on as an inconvenience by the State and élite interests, with workers still exploited, even enslaved, under the emerging gig economy, and with corporations the new dictators.
As Angela auditions various people who have suffered life-changing workplace injuries for an ‘industrial safety video’ commissioned as a PR puff piece by the multinational company (represented by Nina Hoss‘ executive Doris Goethe) that employed them, she will meet the wheelchair-bound Ovidiu (Ovidiu Pîrsan) and his parents Angela and Gyuri (played by Lazar and Miske, back in character some 42 years after they first played these rôles). At the same time, this extremely crude yet cultured young woman – overworked, underpaid, ever exhausted and ever on the move as she gives us a cynical guided tour of contemporary life in Bucharest – spends all her downtime filming and uploading smartphone videos (in vivid colour) of herself as alter ego ‘Bobitsa’, with a filter roughly superimposing Andrew Tate’s features on her own as s/he spouts pro-Putin propaganda and outrageous misogyny. In this guise, Angela satirically embodies Romanian patriarchal values at their very worst – much as, in its way, Jude’s film also does. Neither, of course, should be taken at face value. Meanwhile on a studio set that Angela visits in search of lenses, pugnacious exploitation director Uwe Boll cameos as himself, making images in more ways than one (in a film preoccupied with image-making).
While most of Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World tracks the two Angelas in their parallel flurry of never-ending motion, its final act is a single immobile shot, fixed on Ovidiu and his family as the crew’s attempts to record the ‘educational’ interview are repeatedly thwarted by uncomfortable realities which their corporate financiers would prefer to keep off screen, and the artifice of cinema itself (including Jude’s own) is staged and dramatised in an uncomfortably prolonged, unmoving frame. When the Austrian CEO calls in absurdly suggesting that Ovidiu’s off-script narration should be replaced with more approved text on placards that the disabled man hold and flip like in the video for ‘hippie kike’ Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, the crew point out that local post-Revolution folk singer Valeriu Sterian made his own music video aping Dylan’s, which they then go on to play and discuss, even as Ovidiu with his blank placards sends out a message of revolution’s end (or at least its grotesque appropriation and corporatisation). Jude’s film, too, is a ‘Romanised’ cover version, ringing the changes on a pre-existing feature while, like Angela, donning Romania’s ugliest face as a mask for more sophisticated – if no less brutal – truths about a nation whose ever ongoing apocalypse of exploitation proves timeless.
strap: Radu Jude’s satirical road movie sends two Angelas down parallel Bucharest timelines to expose apocalyptic, if endless, exploitation
© Anton Bitel