Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World: The Rhythmic Monotony of the Apocalypse

Movies Reviews new york film festival 2023
Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World: The Rhythmic Monotony of the Apocalypse

I’m a former doomer turned fickle optimist when it comes to discussions about the so-called end times. I’ve sent myself into enough exasperating panics over climate change—and, at this point, done enough of my own research—to understand that it is not only unproductive to indulge in “climate anxiety,” it is also a sign of privilege. How comfortable of a life must I lead where I can sit otherwise unperturbed in my Brooklyn apartment and panic over future conditions which have not yet come to pass, when said conditions are already in the process of ravaging the planet elsewhere (places where solutions are being innovated to mitigate such effects)? Still, in cities like Bucharest, Romania (much poorer than New York City), life goes on as tediously as the average New Yorker’s amidst crumbling infrastructure, societal decay and creeping corporate influence threatening to uproot all that still connects us to the earth that we came from, and will one day return to.

Thus, Radu Jude’s literalized mouthful Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World depicts, perhaps, the most accurate representation of the dystopia we live in, and the supposed impending dystopia that we’re in the process of arriving at. Whether or not I actually believe we’re going to live in an environmentally ravaged wasteland in 50 years (not much I can do about that, is there?), Jude’s film is the most clear-eyed take on the decline of civilization as it currently stands (if that’s even a thing that’s happening, of course). 

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World largely centers on a day in the life of young Romanian woman Angela (Ilinca Manolache), an overworked, underpaid film production assistant, driving around Bucharest to cast for a work accident film. The film has been commissioned by a major company obviously attempting to cover the tracks left by lax safety precautions for their workers, fronted by a suit named Doris Goethe (Nina Hoss)—funnily, a direct relation to the influential German writer. 

Angela drives through Bucharest in her stick-shift van, meeting with people who have been debilitatingly disabled and filming brief interviews to send to the “Austrians” in charge of the film, in order to weed out which candidates will make the company look the best. Between meetings, Angela films intentionally provocative and popular TikToks playing the character of an Andrew Tate wannabe named Bóbita. As Bóbita, Angela hurls misogynistic threats and praise for Vladmir Putin under a camera filter which perfectly smooths all her flaws, while otherwise giving her a bald head and unibrow.

Throughout the black-and-white cinematography of the present day, where we follow Angela around and find ourselves lulled to sleep by the rhythmic movements of her hands on the steering wheel and the changing gears, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World slips in and out of the story of another Angela: The 1981 Romanian film Angela Goes On. Directed by Lucian Bratu, the older film chronicles the seemingly humdrum routine of the eponymous woman (played by Dorina Lazar) working as a taxi driver. But it was, at the time, a quietly subversive work depicting the reality of life under poverty, having been made during the oppressive and censoring regime of Communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu. 

Jude considers the films of both Angelas in conversation with one another: Two films about two women doing similar jobs during drastically different political periods in the same country. Jude even slows down parts of the older film for audiences to catch what the Romanian censors at the time did not. Of course, some problems (the economic difficulties, the misogyny) nevertheless persist between the lifetimes of the two films.

Jude’s film is hypnotic, patient and playful, bending the rules of filmmaking, overlaying fiction on top of fiction, blending mixed media—even interjecting a surprise and charming cameo from notorious German director Uwe Boll, whom Angela convinces to appear in one of her Bóbita TikToks while he shoots an inane green screen action sequence on a backlot. Manolache is the film’s steady anchor. She plays Angela as a brash, headstrong and confidently immature woman who sports a sequined party dress to her field work. 

Conversations between these characters span topics and time periods, like the efficacy of Tesla and self-driving cars, or the dangerous Romanian road which is too narrow to safely allow ambulances to pass and has thus become something of a horrific and endless graveyard. Jude spends at least 15-20 minutes of the film away from the narrative and, instead, silently clipping through the various crosses that line the side of the deadly motorway, a grim reminder of the reality that “we are alone,” as Angela tells Doris. It harkens back to an earlier scene where Angela attempts to reason with the company threatening to bulldoze the graveyard where her grandmother’s buried, and the constant, casual reminders—between characters, locations, different aspects of the frame—that our societies are trapped in a pernicious downward spiral that we can do little to mitigate.

In the reality depicted by Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, the world will not end with a whimper or a bang, but as work accident victims idle, filming an insurance video in the rain; while the crew bickers among themselves; while the film’s PA risks crashing their car due to loss of sleep out on field work; while young people make TikToks displaying a tenuous grasp on the concept of satire; while nothing is being done to improve the lives of the people who still very much live on this planet. It’s happening in Romania, it’s happening in the United States, it’s happening everywhere, and life goes on just as mundanely as it does any other day. Perhaps it’s merely the perspective of Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, but it sounds like the most reasonable interpretation of our downfall. When Angela relays to her much older male lover a dull minutia of modern life that struck her as “apocalyptic,” it resonates that the apocalypse will not be a seismic event, but just one in an endless line of average days, as the definition of “average” evolves to adapt to our own demise.

Director: Radu Jude
Writer: Radu Jude
Starring: Ilinca Manolache, Nina Hoss, Uwe Boll
Release Date: October 7, 2023 (New York Film Festival)

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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