Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
(Romania/Luxembourg/France/Croatia, 163 min.)
Dir. Radu Jude
Programme: Wavelengths (North American premiere)
While the lengthy title of Romanian director Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is an aphorism by the Polish poet, Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, the film’s protagonist, Angela, played by Ilinca Manolache, speaks her truth about issues plaguing the contemporary world like exploitation of labour, the free market economy, racism, sexism, and environmental destruction in a much less poetic but blunt, curse-laden manner.
Equipped with a quick wit, foul mouth and a flashy sequinned dress, Angela has no interest in subtlety. Working 16-hour days, frankly, she doesn’t have the time for it. Despite being nearly three hours in length, neither does the film. Rather, through experimenting with various modes of image production, this meandering and layered satire presents subtlety as a luxury afforded to those in power that can be weaponized against those they exploit.
Angela, an overworked and underpaid production assistant, has been assigned to record testimonials for a safety video commissioned by an Austrian furniture company. In verité style, we follow Angela in her car as she drives endlessly through a dilapidated looking Bucharest, getting stuck in traffic jams, going from house to house of former employees of the company who have suffered severe workplace injuries and are hoping to be picked to share their story in the video, or a version of it, for €1,000.
Whenever she has a free moment, Angela uses TikTok as an outlet where she speaks through her Andrew Tate modeled alter ego. A satire within a satire, Angela documents her day and commentating on the world around her through the persona of a crass, brazen misogynist. Her friend asks her if she ever worries about going too far and that her audience will miss the joke. Angela responds in her typical indelicate manner that she still has faith most people aren’t stupid.
Throughout the film Jude intercuts scenes from a 1981 Romanian film, Angela Moves On about a taxi driver, starring Dorina Lazar, and her interactions with her clients, one of whom she marries. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World almost becomes a post-communism sequel to Angela Moves On as the worlds of the two Angelas converge when young Angela shows up at the house of the elder Angela, with Lazar reprising her role, to film a testimonial of her wheelchair bound son, Ovidiu.
Nina Hoss who plays a detached Austrian marketing director, and descendent of Goethe, selects Ovidiu to represent the company for the safety video. However, come filming day, this decision backfires as Ovidiu, his mother, wife and daughter, who accompany him in the prolonged static shot, maintain that the company was at fault for his injury. To complicate matters further, the family is in the midst of suing the company and fear the video will be used against them in court. In spite of the conflict of interest, filming goes on.
The shoot takes place at the site of the injury by the parking lot of the warehouse. As Ovidiu recites his story over and over, objects are removed from the background scenery, including the metal bar that injured him, creating as neutral a backdrop as possible. When the head of the company realizes they won’t be able to steer Ovidiu’s words in a direction they’re happy with, it is decided to forgo dialogue altogether and rely solely on the image and text by directing him to hold up green blank cards on which the Austrians can superimpose their narrative in post.
While the film loses some of its momentum with this lengthy finishing scene, it is the final point of convergence, emphasizing the themes of exploitation and how media and image production can be manipulated to reveal and conceal truths in a darkly funny way. In showing multiple representations of Romania and the globalized world from many points of view and points in time, Jude underscores how film is ruled by the image and not necessarily reality.
Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World screened at TIFF 2023.
Read more coverage from this year’s festival here.