LOCARNO 2023 Competition Review: Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
by Mariana Hristova, Cineuropa August 11, 2023
Radu Jude’s eighth fiction feature seems to imply that the apocalypse might not arrive as a spectacular big bang, but rather as a flood of stupidity – and it’s actually already here.
“In my statement, I also quote Jacques Rivette, who says that cinema is not storytelling only; it is instead a descriptive essay, an art of juxtapositions and making connections. From this point of view, this is the result I was looking for – to use artistic means to create a complex portrait of today’s society.”
“It is a very self-reflective film about what images mean and what cinema can be nowadays .”
It is a portrait not only of the reality of today’s society, but also of its reflection in the media.
“Passers-by, do not pass coldly. I was like you, you will be like me,” reads the epitaph on a tombstone snuck in somewhere in the first part of Radu Jude’s new, nearly three-hour-long feature that sports a correspondingly expansive title, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World. The transience of life amidst the maelstrom of urban rushing, media images, incessant newsfeeds and today’s noisy environment is the subtle leitmotif of the film, which has just premiered in the International Competition of the 76th Locarno Film Festival. It stands out thanks to its rough aesthetics, bold frankness and mercilessly unembellished observations on contemporary reality – that, and its reflection on the media, which inevitably accompany our modern lives. It is also a philosophical essay on the notion of cinema today, on the sheer insanity of the gig economy, and on social responsibility, which everyone seems to be trying to get around somehow. The striking thing about Jude’s new epic is that, despite its length, the closer it gets to the end, the hungrier it leaves viewers for more of the same. Perhaps because, like in any experimental work – and here, Jude again plays with styles and genres, while brilliantly juggling quotes from his favourite readings – the result crystallises as the process progresses and the urge to enjoy it intensifies.
Everything revolves around Angela (Ilinca Manolache), whose life is a whirlpool of multitasking while working as a freelance assistant at a production company. Her daily routine consists of exhaustively driving around Bucharest in search of a suitable character for a promotional video on safety in the workplace, commissioned by a multinational corporation. Not having enough time to have a proper meal or even sex, Angela’s sole escapist distraction from the back-breaking work is to sporadically go viral with her foul-mouthed, moustached avatar.
Meanwhile, episodes from her daily life are juxtaposed with footage from Lucian Bratu’s Angela merge mai departe (1981), in which another Angela drives a taxi around Bucharest during the Ceaușescu years. The two political eras – aggressive capitalism, revolving around a constant striving for one’s goals, and laid-back communism, almost to the point of sleepiness – clash with and complement one another in an ironic commentary on contemporary society, as well as on representations of the past and present. The narrative’s high point arrives in the second part of the film, when a wheelchair-bound protagonist (Ovidiu Pîrsan) for the video has been found, and his version of the work incident that left him paralysed does not meet the corporate criteria; therefore, he is asked to endlessly adjust his statement until the company is satisfied. The phrases are repeated until they are devoid of meaning and only the façade of the original concept remains. Perhaps Goethe's last words were not really “Light! Мore light,” but “Nothing! More nothing,” muses his distant relative and the head of the corporation (Nina Hoss), who has never found the time to read any of his work except Faust.
Having created an inspiring and reflective film from a mosaic of archival cinema, amateur footage, an endless stream of current affairs and daring opinions on the speculative media environment we are surrounded by, Judeonce again proves himself to be one of the most original auteurs of our times. Moreover, his lack of fear at being controversial – or simply wrong – allows him to create cinema on an extraordinary scale that does not necessarily aim to please, but rather attempts to make sense of today's increasingly pointless way of life in the so-called Western world, which Romania, just like other Eastern Bloc countries, desperately craves to belong to.
Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World was produced by Romania’s 4 Proof Film, and co-produced by Luxembourg’s Paul Thiltges Distributions, France’s Les Films d'Ici, Croatia’s Kinorama and Romania’s microFILM. Heretic Outreach is in charge of its international sales.