How a Wild Romanian Comedy Nails Our 21st-Century Doomscroll-Apocalypse Vibe

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Ilinca Manolache in "Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World" - Credit: Mubi
Ilinca Manolache in "Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World" - Credit: Mubi

The end will not come with a bang, they say, but with a TikTok post featuring a fake incel bragging about his prolific sex life. We’re paraphrasing slightly, but somehow, we don’t think the folks behind Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World will mind — this is a movie that gleefully blends highbrow references and dick jokes while bending reality to its breaking point. The latest satire from Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude, this provocation takes aim at a host of subjects: social media, the mainstream media, the pro forma 80-hour work week, rampant misogyny (on- and offline), revisionist histories and red-pilled influencers. Rather than just raise a much-deserved middle finger to all of these topics, however, Jude heats up this toxic stew in the name of mapping out a slow-moving downward spiral as we amuse and abuse ourselves to death. Its title may be a mouthful, but the more accurate handle Apocalypse Now was, regrettably, already spoken for.

Our tour guide to this seventh circle of the 21st century is Angela (Illinca Manolache), a production assistant in Bucharest who can’t stop, won’t stop trying to please her bosses back in Austria. Her company, Forbidden Planet, specializes in small-screen sensationalism like Canis Majoris Attacks; she’s been tasked with finding subjects that have been injured at their jobs for a workplace-safety PSA. Once her alarm goes off at 5 a.m., Angela is in her car, whizzing around from place to place while blaring hilariously filthy EDM odes to clubbing and fucking to stay awake.

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In between taking Mom to visit her recently deceased grandmother’s grave (already in disrepair thanks to bureaucratic ineptitude) and recording testimonials from potential talking heads, she posts TikTok videos by her alter ego Bobita, a crude caricature of an everybro courtesy of a filter that gives her bushy eyebrows, stubble, and a Cro-Magnon brow. He’s an Eastern European id, spewing vulgar rants about women, pro-Putinist slogans, and Andrew Tate name-drops. Compared to the truly hateful male drivers that scream at her on the road all day, however, the dude is a pussycat. Angela is equal parts bemused by the ridiculousness she sees around her and reactive to the free-floating hostility that seems to have infected every aspect of everyday life. “I feel like an astronaut who’s come upon a planet with an atmosphere made of 100 percent farts,” she says at one point. We can only nod in agreement and hold our nose in sympathy.

The Romanian New Wave’s resident anarchist, Jude distinguished himself from his award-winning peers early by consistently messing with narrative forms and fourth walls. He’ll remix Ceaușescu-era propaganda indirectly via genre epics (2015’s Aferim!) and period pieces (2016’s Scarred Hearts), or tweak documentary aesthetics enough to double as commentary (2018’s I Do Not Care If We Go Down as Barbarians). With Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn (2021), Jude found a sort of breakthrough mode of attack that used a grab-bag’s worth of styles and snickering humor laced with anger — a way of raging against the machine through sheer outrageousness. There will be political points scored off of prudish hypocrisy and modern-day social rot. There will also be someone dressed as Wonder Woman attacking a priest with a priapic sex toy. In other words, fun for the whole family!

Do Not Expect builds on his previous film’s fractured style and broadens the range of his crosshairs, but the puckishness and past-the-boiling-point sense of wrath feels even sharper this time around. Ditto the postmodern digs at his nation’s past and our extremely online present. It’s not enough to mention that a road has more crosses dedicated to victims of auto accidents than kilometers of length — there will then be a near-five-minute silent montage of almost all of those crosses to drive the point home. Tar‘s Nina Hoss drops in to give corporate dehumanization a human face. Grade-Z director Uwe Boll stops by to remind you that he’s Uwe Boll. Proust, Goethe, and Freaks come up in conversation. Threaded throughout the black-and-white footage of Angela’s mad rushes to and fro are clips from a 1980s Romanian film called Angela Moves On, a melodrama about a female cab driver. This Angela also suffers from dirty looks, sexist assumptions, endless working hours, and the miserabilism percolating around her. Contrast that snapshot of life under an authoritarian regime with the misogynistic threats and gig-economy blues that colors the contemporary Angela’s daily routines, and plus ça change.

Halfway through Jude’s movie, his hero meets the now-elderly character from that older work, and Angela 2.0 ends up bringing Angela 1.0’s paralyzed son in for the PSA. The entire last half hour is essentially that shoot, in which the crew first stage-manages the environment (gotta get rid of that vodka ad in the background, lest they offend the Russians) and then the victim’s testimony itself. Eventually, they give him blank cards to hold up and drop to the side “like in that Bob Dylan video,” perfect for them green-screening text of their choosing later on. It’s one last pitch-black joke on Jude’s part, and a final throwing up of hands as reality gets manipulated into extinction. The best movies reflect society back at itself, and Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World is one seriously cracked mirror. You will neither like what you see nor will you feel fine. In our here and now, Jude suggests, it’s not that the center cannot hold. The problem is that there’s no center whatsoever any more. Good night, and good luck.

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