The Grind Never Stops in Radu Jude’s Latest Film

Filmmaker Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World follows a production assistant on a long day’s drive to screen injured Romanian workers for a workplace safety video — painting a bleak, darkly funny portrait of a hollowed-out world.

Angela Răducanu (Ilinca Manolache) drives through Bucharest for her job as a production assistant in Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World. (4 Proof Film)

Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World, the latest film by Romanian writer and director Radu Jude, opens with a phone alarm going off at the ungodly hour of 5:50 a.m. As the overworked, underpaid film production assistant (PA) at the center of the story reaches out to silence the alarm, we see her nightstand, littered with the detritus of a hazy night in: an overturned beer bottle, a mostly empty glass of wine, and Marcel Proust’s In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. Call it greeting the day with a grimace.

Throwing on a sequined dress, Angela Răducanu (Ilinca Manolache) stumbles to her van to start an unending day of driving around Bucharest. As is so often the case in the industry, the hours of driving will go on interminably, stretching well into the night. Jude himself was once a PA, and he has said that the death of a fellow PA in a car crash — a stunningly frequent occurrence in the industry — was part of the film’s inspiration.

Angela’s route is determined by a local production company that has been tasked with making a workplace safety film for an Austrian conglomerate that is seeking to polish its reputation and reduce its liability. The conglomerate wants to have a worker who was injured in its Romanian factory appear in the video, and Angela’s task is to prescreen the many candidates. She goes from one shabby apartment to another, filming the borderline-destitute disabled workers as they audition, hoping for the 500 euros that come with the role. Their desperation is palpable, the anxiety radiating off the thin walls. Some of the workers’ families plead with Angela to put in a good word, but the decision is up to the Austrians; after all, she’s just another worker being exploited by the wage differential between her country and that of the corporate overlords.

In crowded homes, workers recount their misfortunes for the screen. One fell off a platform in the factory, but because she had taken a sip of alcohol handed to her in celebration of a coworker’s birthday, the corporation claims it was her fault. Ditto for a worker with a disturbing facial scar who lost the ability to speak following his accident; Angela breaks the news that the corporation is unlikely to choose someone who is mute. Then there is Ovidiu (Ovidiu Pîrșan), the worker who the Austrians ultimately choose, a family man who was hit in the head with a rusty piece of metal being used as a barricade in the company parking lot: the impact put him in a coma, then paralyzed him from the waist down.

This is not a safety video; it’s pure propaganda. The conglomerate clearly shares some of the blame for the injuries, yet the most important part of the script, as Angela tells one worker, is when they implore employees to wear the company’s protective gear and not take irresponsible risks, as if it were their own mistakes that left them injured.

About half an hour into Jude’s film, it occurred to me that I was in for a nearly three-hour car ride with Angela. Claustrophobia threatened as I watched her listen to pounding club music and heavy metal, sucking down energy drinks to try to keep from falling asleep at the wheel. (“I can’t go on like this,” she tells a doorman at one point, to which he responds, “That’s what you think.”) That her driving is only ever interrupted by phone calls, usually from her employer, which her phone announces with the “Ode to Joy” (the European Union’s official anthem), only made the atmosphere ghastlier. Much like Jude’s 2021 Berlinale-winning Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Do Not Expect Much From the End of the World has some trying moments. Spending all day stuck in traffic does suck.

Thankfully, Angela’s deliriously scattered dialogue pulled me back down another rabbit hole before my dread could take hold. She’s a magpie, as familiar with Karl Marx and Jean-Luc Godard as she is with celebrity gossip and raunchy jokes (one story she tells, about a porn star who had to pull up PornHub on his phone mid-scene to stay hard, is especially memorable). The jumble of referents evokes social media: specifically TikTok, with its jump cuts and chaotic juxtapositions. And as it turns out, Angela is big on TikTok.

Or rather, her alter ego, Bobiţă — an Andrew Tate–like figure who tells ludicrously pornographic, deeply offensive anecdotes — is big on TikTok. Angela uses a filter to become Bobiţă, though she betrays no concern that her blond hair and body are often visible in frame, overrunning the bounds of the unsettling filter (at the press screening I attended, we received cutouts of Bobiţă’s face; when I texted a photo of the bald, bushy-browed visage to a friend, he informed me that he had immediately deleted the picture).

Angela Răducanu (Ilinca Manolache) films herself on a work break to post on her TikTok alter ego’s account. (4 Proof Film)

The artifice is the appeal. Bobiţă spews poison, and the absurdity of the charismatic Manolache standing in bleak Eastern European surroundings, holding her phone up to her face as she unleashes obscene recaps of Bobiţă’s nights — an aged member of the British royal family gave him a blow job, he and Tate were just partying at a ritzy hotel, he’s in his Maserati, etc. — is unbelievably funny. That Manolache created the Bobiţă persona years ago, independently of the film, and it’s what led Jude to reach out to her only makes it even more perfectly strange.

Angela’s persona is an attempted exorcism of the societal ills and bigotries around her. “I criticize by way of extreme caricature, like Charlie Hebdo,” she explains. But the water you swim in is the water you swim in, and when she sneaks a quickie with her beau inside the van between stops on her interminable route, it’s no surprise to learn that she has a penchant for a variety of pornified dirty talk that we can imagine Bobiţă enjoying too.

While Bobiţă’s videos are in color, Jude portrays the rest of Angela’s world in a washed-out black and white, a hardness befitting the film’s characters. The only other color comes from another film that is spliced into the main narrative. Lucian Bratu’s 1981 Angela Merge Mai Departe (Angela Goes On) follows a taxi driver (celebrated Romanian actress Dorina Lazăr) as she motors around the capitol, subject to the harassment of men much like modern-day Angela. The cuts of the older film slow down in a screeching halt, zeroing in on men’s faces, often disfigured with rage, before we are catapulted back into the present.

Our Angela encounters the older Angela (still played by Lazăr) in her own narrative: she’s Ovidiu’s mother. The Angelas chat: traffic has increased since the older woman’s days behind the wheel, and worse, the younger woman doesn’t even get benefits (no surprise, Jude’s Angela is an independent contractor). Who is better off, we wonder, present-day Angela or the one from the Nicolae Ceauşescu–era film?

At one point, Angela stops by a sound stage to retrieve some equipment, and the director presiding over the action is Uwe Boll, a famously pugnacious character. In real life, Boll’s films are consistently panned, and in 2006, he challenged film critics to a boxing match and won. He also was the subject of an article I wrote last year in which crew members on his New York production alleged that Ari Taub, his producer, brought a gun to set. The fallout included a walkout and, according to the workers, several wrongful terminations. Boll and Taub denied the allegations at the time, with Boll emailing me to simply respond “No” to each of my questions. To see him show up in a film that is itself about a harried film production worker pushed to the breaking point was a fittingly preposterous twist.

Still from a TikTok video featuring Angela Răducanu (Ilinca Manolache)’s alter ego, Bobiţă (L), and Uwe Boll. (4 Proof Films)

As the movie nears its end, Angela picks up Doris Goethe (Nina Hoss), a marketing executive from the Austrian corporation. When she asks Doris if it’s true that the company is razing Romanian forests — a major issue in the country — the chilly executive tells her she doesn’t know and isn’t familiar with those allegations. Doris turns out to be a descendant of the Goethe, but when Angela asks her about a line from the writer, Doris admits that she has never read him, a statement that pathetically contrasts her with Angela’s dazzling intelligence and creative energy, neither of which are likely to ever be nurtured or rewarded. As they drive, Angela mentions a stretch of road where there has been more than one fatal accident per kilometer and the film abruptly cuts to a silent four-minute sequence of images of the roadside memorials left by the families of the victims. The black comedy has become a vigil.

There is a second chapter in the film, a roughly half-hour-long shot filmed on a stationary camera in which the unlucky Ovidiu returns to the scene of his accident for the shooting of the workplace safety video. It’s a miserable, depressing climax, with Ovidiu forced to tell and retell his story, pressured to omit the truth, which is that it is the company, not him, who is at fault. So much for the magic of cinema! All of this torment and stress — Ovidiu’s suffering, Angela’s hours behind the wheel, the Austrian corporation’s demands, the scrambling by the Romanian production company — and for what? Well, for the safety and security of the bottom line, of course.