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Of the handful of directors who make up the Romanian New Wave, which kicked off two decades ago and is still going strong, Radu Jude is perhaps the most radical and exuberant — something like the movement’s Jacques Rivette or Jacques Rozier. He’s made everything from a coming-of-age comedy (The Happiest Girl in the World) to an historic western (Aferim!) to a bleak period drama (Scarred Hearts) to a contemporary sex satire (Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, which won Berlin’s Golden Bear in 2021).
His latest work, the nearly three-hour Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, may actually be his most experimental yet, with two parallel narratives — one set in in the present, the other consisting of found footage from the 1981 movie, Angela Moves On (Angela merge mai departe) — tackling similar stories of women eking out a living on the dog-eat-dog streets of Bucharest.
Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World
Jude the obscure.
Venue: Locarno Film Festival (Competition)
Cast: Ilinca Manolache, Ovidiu Pirsan, Nina Hoss, Dorina Lazar, Katia Pascariu, Uwe Boll
Director, screenwriter: Radu Jude
2 hours 43 minutes
Both characters are called Angela, and both spend a lot of time riding around the city. In the old film, Angela (Dorina Lazar) is a cab driver trying to make ends meet under dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu’s stifling regime, and she’s clearly one of the only women who holds such a profession at the time. In the modern-day story, Angela (Ilinca Manolache, a Jude regular) is a production assistant for a company specializing in ads and corporate videos, working long hours doing whatever they tell her to do.
Their trajectories are similar, as is the fact that they struggle under a powerful patriarchy, whether it’s communism in the 80s or today’s corporations and Orthodox church. But there’s also a key difference: The contemporary Angela is more outspoken, telling off her bosses when they push her too far, or making lewdly satirical videos under the pseudonym Bobita, using a filter (of Andrew Tate!) to disguise her identity.
Jude switches with ease between three formats (muted 16mm color from 1981, high-contrast black-and-white for the present and iPhone images for Bobita’s videos), offering more of a day-in-the-life chronicle of the two women than any kind of gripping plot. Viewers shouldn’t go into Do Not Expect Too Much hoping to be hooked on a story — the movie is closer to an immersive experience where both Angelas emerge as figures of protest, refusing to accept a system meant to keep them in their place.
The movie also provides a meta-commentary on film itself, referencing Godard and Blow-Up, and offering cameos by renegade German director Uwe Boll and the actress who starred in the original Angela Moves On. As a PA, the modern Angela is at the very bottom of the ladder, serving as underpaid casting director for a video about workplace safety, swinging over to the airport to pick up the Austrian exec (an intimidating Nina Hoss) arriving to observe the shoot, and trying to get a nap in whenever she can. Her numerous TikTok sketches, which are purposely crass and confrontational, are the only way she can wrestle a little power away for herself, and she shoots them whenver she has a few free seconds.
For nearly two hours, Jude cuts between the past and present scenes, allowing one to slyly comment on the other in a sort of mirror effect. In the film’s third section, consisting of two long sequence shots from a fixed position, he switches viewpoints to that of the corporate video, where a worker (Ovidiu Pirsan) who was paralyzed during a freak on-the-job accident winds up turning against his company.
Jude and cameraman Marius Panduru stage that and other scenes to achieve maximum tension and absurdity, in situations filled with sociopolitical undercurrents that pop up without warning. One example is a pre-production meeting that Hoss’ character oversees on Zoom like a malevolent goddess, as the Romanians do their best to convince their client while mocking her, and Austria, at the same time. They know they have to please, but that doesn’t mean they have to do it willingly.
As is typical of the director, Do Not Expect Too Much ends inconclusively, offering no easy solutions for its two female protagnoists. We never find out what happened to the old Angela, while the new one keeps doing what she’s doing without achieving any major breakthrough either on TikTok or in her crappy day job. And yet the film gradually reveals how both women manage to reject Romania’s status quo, protesting either silently or out loud, all the while knowing they can never really change the system. Like Bobita’s videos, Jude’s freewheeling feature is an act of resistance in and of itself.