Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, Radu Jude

‘Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World’ Is a Stinging Comedy of Banal Chaos

Radu Jude’s gonzo satire of post-Soviet Romania, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, hits a sweet spot between Luis Buñuel and Béla Tarr.

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
Radu Jude
22 March 2024

As the title of Radu Jude’s new film suggests, things end not with a bang but a whimper. In the case of Romania, the country whose legacy of corruption and exploitation has been a favored topic of Jude and other Romanian New Wave filmmakers, it is presented as collapsing with an undignified slide into lethargy, misdirected rage, and social media clowning. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is an absurdist and occasionally hilarious comedy. It also leaves you with the sensation of witnessing a slow-motion catastrophe where the worst has yet to happen.

Jude builds his sprawling and sometimes overlong film around Angela (Ilinca Manolache). A spirited and sleep-deprived production assistant with a performative streak and no filter, she spends much of the first two hours barreling through Bucharest traffic. Her production company is shooting a safety film for an Austrian company that wants to find injured workers as examples of what not to do. Angela darts from one home to the next, filming desperately poor, wounded people. It’s a nakedly exploitative day-long audition of victims deemed appropriately attractive for Doris (Nina Hoss), the Austrians’ head of marketing.

Angela’s manic moods mirror the filmmaker’s style. Jude likes to alternate Béla Tarr-like stretches of stoic melancholy and deadpan humor with jags of bawdy chaos, though there is less of the latter in this film than in 2021’s more forthrightly comedic Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World’s first section is shot mostly in a textured black-and-white, giving the extended driving scenes a hypnotic quality. But Jude also threads in a couple of strands of color.

The first, and somewhat more interesting for its largely unexplained nature, is footage from a 1980s Romanian movie about a cab driver named Angela. Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is as unsparing about the degraded nature of modern Romania as it was under Ceausescu’s Communist rule. But the older footage’s view of a serene, modest, and less graspingly greedy society still comes across as saner propaganda than the morally tortured corporate message Angela’s company is helping create.

In a nod to the present’s media-splintered reality, Angela takes every opportunity to record TikToks. Her shtick is a toxic Andrew Tate-like manosphere troll. The character delivers scuzzy rants, mostly about sex but with the occasional Vladimir Putin shoutout, from behind a creepy filter whose heavy eyebrows half-mockingly evoke Father Arsenie Boca, an Orthodox priest persecuted by the Communists. It’s a purposefully obnoxious creation and in keeping with the film’s view of modern Romania as overflowing with impotent anger.

Angela’s addiction to creating the videos has taken on a life beyond satire; like many an influencer before her, she gets high on her own supply. When somebody who overhears one of her in-character rants asks if she can tone down the vulgarity, Angela replies in a tone of high-octane self-glorification that she “caricatures by extreme example—I’m Charlie Hebdo!”

The second section of Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World turns the performative absurdity in a more focused direction. Less than an hour long and comprised of what seems to be two long takes, it turns the film from a freewheeling circus with satirical edges into an unsparing national self-examination.

This section is set in an alley where Angela’s company is shooting the work safety ad with their selected subject: a wheelchair-bound worker (Ovidu Pirsan) who the company thinks has the right look. He and his family wait in the rain with a very specifically post-Soviet resignation. Meanwhile, petty arguments over shooting details escalate into seismic debates on the nature of Romania and whether unproductive locals or predatory foreigners are to blame for its calamitous state. But whenever the film threatens to deliver an easily packaged theme, Jude undercuts the moment by having his characters revert to selfishness and half-assedness.

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World‘s cynicism is deeply embedded, yet it delivers the most laughs. “It shows we’re more inclusive,” Doris says in support of choosing a Roma auditionee. “But that’s a problem in Romania,” Angela responds. Without missing a beat at the mention of deep-seated prejudice, Doris shrugs, “You know best.” The moment parallels how Jude sees modern Romania as a whole: glibly erasing a brief foray into idealism before it can take root.

RATING 7 / 10