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‘Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World’ — but do expect one of 2024’s best movies

Michael Phillips – Chicago Tribune (TNS)

I don’t know he did it, exactly, but filmmaker Radu Jude has conjured a rarity: an angry, clear-eyed satiric flaying of modern capitalism and humankind’s infinite capacity to disappoint that doesn’t settle for a tone of “well, that’s the way things are, might as well give up.”

Direct from Bucharest, with tough love, the film carries the title “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World.” It is a bracing and chaotic and memorable experience. Writer-director Jude’s previous feature was, too: “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” about a Bucharest high school teacher whose sex tape leads to a series of bureaucratic, hypocritical and institutional nightmares. Jude hasn’t toned down much with “End of the World” but the result feels more purposeful, its scope wider, its empathy more fully invested in its hardy female protagonist and the workday she’s up against.

Her name is Angela, played by the extraordinary screen presence Ilinca Manolache. Her story amounts to a workplace serio-comedy on wheels. Working long hours as a production assistant at a film production company, Angela’s job requires her to bomb around Bucharest, with her aggressive and uneven driving skills, interviewing seriously injured factory employees for possible inclusion in a heavily lawyered workplace safety video.

Along the way, Angela fights back her fatigue and her creeping sense of something very wrong with the ethical core of the video in progress by turning herself into another person entirely. Using a gender-swapping filter, she’s Bobita, a swarthy uni-browed reactionary blowhard and misogynist and fan of Vladimir Putin. She’s making fun of all the real-life Bobitas she’s known, probably, but she knows how TikTok draws all kinds, half of them happy to miss the joke.

Is Jude’s film kidding, or serious? The answer’s yes. It’s kidding and it’s serious, and the mundane particulars of Angela’s interview sessions with the safety video “contestants,” or the painfully relatable pre-meeting banter of a Zoom session with management, keeps all 10 toes of “End of the World” in the world as we know it, right now.

Jude bounces Angela’s travails against scenes from an earlier Romanian film, the 1981 Ceausescu-era “Angela Moves On.” The taxi driver of that story mirrors, to some degree, the Angela of Jude’s story. But times have changed; the insistent, placating sweetness of the older film becomes the uncomprehending parent of the one we’re watching. “End of the World” culminates in revealing stasis: a long, long fixed shot of the maimed factory worker chosen for the video, on camera with his family. How the true account of his injuries gets massaged, gradually, insidiously, into an entirely different story gives Jude’s film its true nerve, and teeth, without polemics.

It works, I think, because we taste ashes in the mouth. But because Angela never leaves the film for long, we know — we hope — she is a voice of dissent, finding her way to action. Trained in the Romanian theater, Manolache has fantastically dry comic timing. As Angela, her every move, every pop of bubble gum, every trash-talk insult to someone she’s just cut off on the road, every under-compensated indignity of the character’s workday adds up, detail by detail. Most anti-capitalist screeds are just that: screeds, nothing more. This one’s more essay than screed, full of discursions, but it’s unpredictable, vital and a lifeline for adventurous filmgoers.

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‘DO NOT EXPECT TOO MUCH FROM THE END OF THE WORLD’

(In Romanian and English with English subtitles)

3.5 stars (out of 4)

No MPA rating (language, some nudity)

Running time: 2:43 

How to watch: Now in theaters

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©2024 Chicago Tribune. Visit at chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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