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Seasoned Ticket, The Scarecrow Wire


Posted April 5th 2024

Robert Horton is a Scarecrow board member and a longtime film critic. This series of "critic's notes" is chance to highlight worthy films playing locally and connect them to the riches of Scarecrow's collection.

Jean-Luc Godard's assisted suicide is mentioned in Radu Jude's new film, which seems appropriate because Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World has some of the method and free-roaming curiosity of Godard's movies, and about the same amount of interest in following conventional storytelling modes. The reference is fleeting, and merely one of many subjects brought up in the course of this zany 163-minute epic, which has a lot on its mind.

The design of Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is something I happen to like a lot: One day in the life of a main character, spent in exhausting busy-ness, seeming to convey everything that is wrong with our world today. The character is Angela (Ilinca Manolache), a young woman distinguished by her sparkly sequined dress, her devotion to chewing bubble gum, and her ability to navigate the choked, aggressive Bucharest traffic. (These extended scenes are like the massive traffic jam from Godard's Weekend extended across the entirety of daily life.) Most of Angela's running around the city has to do with her job as a production assistant for a company making a corporate film, but she also has a legal issue to address, and skits to perform for her online persona, which involves her using an avatar to embody a misogynistic internet influencer.

She works for a corporation (Nina Hoss plays the corporate overseer) seeking to make a workplace-safety film that will essentially put the blame for accidents on the workers. This would be a compelling topic for a conventional feature film, but Jude is not interested in that. For one thing, our main subject is regularly interrupted by sequences from a 1981 Romanian film, Angela Moves On, about another woman who drives a lot, a taxi driver (in scenes that show Bucharest's streets as almost magically unpopulated). Not only that, but the two lead actors from that film, Dorina Lazar and Laszlo Miske, appear in our movie too, as the parents of a disabled man (Ovidiu Pîrsan) auditioning to appear in the workplace-safety film. The '81 film is in rich color; Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World itself is in grainy black and white.

Since 2015's relatively straightforward Aferim! (which I wrote about for Film Comment), Jude's features have been fractured and discombobulated in postmodern fashion. The new film's digressions and disruptions give us more of the same, but its biggest test comes in its final half-hour, when the shooting of the corporate film unfolds in real time, from a single, fixed set-up (in color now). You will have to be on the movie's droll wavelength—which is very much the Romanian humor-out-of-desperation style—to roll with this concept, but it works well enough for Jude's merciless purposes. It's an extension that doesn't fit the rest of the movie, but then Jude doesn't want things to fit.

I prefer the odyssey that precedes it, which finds the stuff of our corrupt, sexist, violent world pinballing around (the detritus includes schlock director Uwe Boll, believe it or not). This film may be inspired by Godard (it's full of quotations, a la Godard, some of which are credited), but it's also a descendent of Fellini: mysterious go-kart races who circle endlessly around Angela as she tries to cross the street, and the poetry of rundown city outskirts. Angela herself is a little like Fellini's Cabiria, exploited but indomitable. At one point she turns to an impassive doorman and sighs, "I can't go on like this." His response is, "That's what you think," which she registers as the exasperating truth that it is.

April 5, 2024