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“Do Not Expect Much at the End of the World” reviewed

Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of World is a thrillingly caustic comedy about what might get summed up on social media as the realities of life under late capitalism. But Radu Jude’s masterpiece, which sprawls digressively over two hours and 44 minutes, also switches between black-and-white photography and color clips from a communist-era film and cites both the great Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō and the great German schlockmeister Uwe Boll (who appears as himself). It’s just too expansive for a phrase that gets thrown around so easily. No shade to the internet, which erupts onscreen by way of the TikToks that the film’s heroine, an unflappable blonde named Angela Raducanu (Ilinca Manolache), makes in the spare moments she’s able to grab for herself while on the job. Using a filter that gives her a bald head, bushy eyebrows, and a patchy goatee, she takes on the persona of Bobiță, a jet-setting hustle bro who loves his Maserati, Vladimir Putin, his pals Andrew Tate and King Charles, and monologuing in paint-peeling detail about all the orifices he’s been fucking. “I criticize by way of extreme caricature, like Charlie Hebdo,” Angela explains of her online alter ego, which leads a colleague to ask darkly if she expects to take a bullet like someone at Charlie Hebdo too.

The truth is, if Angela is going to meet an untimely end, it’s more likely going to be behind the wheel of the car in which she spends most of her waking life. Her day job as a PA at a Bucharest production company has become so all-consuming she doesn’t even have time to do her usual moonlighting as an Uber driver, and the marathon workdays leave her in danger of nodding off behind the wheel. That these long hours are being put in in service of a corporate video about worker safety is an irony that doesn’t need to be mentioned. The Bucharest production company Angela works for specializes in international projects that are being outsourced to take advantage of cheaper labor and laxer regulations, its owners booking string quartets to accompany client lunches while Angela has to demand her pay each week. The film is rife with those in power taking advantage of those who aren’t, on scales that range from the personal to the national, but Jude’s interest lies more in how we live with these realities. When Angela picks up a visiting Austrian executive named Doris Goethe (a fantastically chilly Nina Hoss) from the airport, she lies to the woman about how much she’s been working so that both of them can preserve the pretense that Doris’ corporation is not squatting extractively over Angela’s country like a giant tick. Hey, we all have bills to pay.

It’s never a good idea to generalize about a national sensibility, but the sense of humor in Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of World is a kind that has started to feel decidedly Romanian to me — this pitch-black appreciation for the absurdities of the societal machinery threatening to crush you in its gears. Jude got his start working as an assistant director on films like Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, a deliberate tragicomedy in which a grouchy old man is bounced from hospital to hospital over the course of a night because no one wants to take responsibility for treating him. His last feature, the acerbic Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (the guy loves a long title), was about a teacher facing a humiliating trial by a jury of hypocritical parents and colleagues after the leak of a sex tape she made with her husband. Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of World ends with the filming of the video Angela’s been working on, a long sequence filmed in a single locked-off shot that builds up into one of the most bleakly funny things I’ve ever seen. Ovidiu (Ovidiu Pîrsan), who was paralyzed from the waist down by an accident that was clearly the result of corporate neglect, tells his story again and again while offscreen marketing executives chisel the details away to redirect responsibility for worker safety to the workers themselves. But again, bills to pay!

While most of Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of World is filmed in a black-and-white that for a long time makes full appreciation of Angela’s sequined dress impossible, that last segment is in color, as are the Bobiță videos. Also in color are the clips from a 1981 movie called Angela Moves On that Jude intersperses throughout his picture until its main character, who’s also named Angela Coman (Dorina Lazar), intersects with the present-day storyline in a gratifying convergence. Angela Moves On is a communist-era production about the personal and professional dramas of a female taxi driver, though what’s happening at the edges of the screen intrigues Jude as much as the parallels between his two automotive Angelas. He slows the footage down to focus on the regular people lining the side of the road, glimpses of the era’s reality outside the sentimental, state-approved storyline. Jude is far from a nostalgist — he dredges up a scene from the old film in which a woman asks to be taken to a neighborhood that would not long after be demolished by Nicolae Ceaușescu in order to build the massive, mostly empty Palace of the Parliament. But as one character derides the work from that era for being censored, it’s also very clear that the video they’re all working on is being dictated by outside forces just as overtly — they just happen to be capitalist ones. Of the many things that make Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of World exhilarating, from its egalitarian mix of high and low references to its delightful profanity, what stands out is its willingness to acknowledge the general horror of modern existence, and then to suggest the only reasonable response is to laugh.