April 16, 2024 3:29 pm

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World
Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

A corporate video is not art, as much as its director might want it to be. And yet, the people who work on such projects are expected to display the slavish devotion of passionate and committed artists. Working 18 or 20 hours a day to produce commercial content isn’t worth it, that much is clear. That raises more questions, though: Is “art,” however you define it, any more worthy of sacrificing the safety and sanity of human beings? Is any of this worth it? And do the people for whom we’re sacrificing so much even notice, let alone care? 

Overtime comes up a lot in “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World,” a cynical and bone-dry satire from Romanian director Radu Jude. Using an exhausted production assistant as its vehicle, Jude’s film explores the ways in which the ever-tightening noose of 21-century capitalism chokes the life out of everyday people. Corners are constantly being cut; workers are constantly being asked to do more for less. In Jude’s version of the apocalypse, the light will go out so subtly, we won’t notice until it’s pitch black. And it’ll be a billionaire unscrewing the bulb to save a few cents on electricity. 

In the context of the internet, this gradual, Jenga-like collapse is referred to as “enshittification.” In Jude’s film, it’s conveyed through the encroachment of billboards into cemeteries and paychecks that are always late. These annoyances are ever-present in the life of Angela (Ilinca Manolache), the aforementioned PA, whose day begins at 5:50 AM and ends long after dark. The film is structured around a single workday, which for Angela consists mostly of sitting in traffic—another banal misery—in between appointments.

Today, she’s auditioning disabled factory workers for a part in a workplace safety video. She’s collecting their sad stories and compiling the footage for her bosses, who will decide that afternoon which of them is just pathetic enough to make for a good cautionary tale. (In a brutal scene later on, a German marketing executive played by Nina Hoss will reject one of the candidates, saying that looking at him makes her too sad.) Angela has been chosen for this role because she’s “one of them.” They trust her. And when the time comes, it’ll be her job to twist the knife. 

“Do Not Expect…” culminates in a masterfully executed sequence that distills the film’s themes into a single, unbroken shot—ostensibly the raw footage from the PSA—where a poor family is manipulated into undermining their own interests in bleakly funny fashion. The road there is full of small indignities and absurd ironies, peppered with pop-culture references (including a surreal cameo from one Dr. Uwe Boll) and fueled by the energy drinks Angela gulps to stay awake. These scenes are woven in with footage from the 1981 Romanian film “Angela Drives On,” in which a previous generation’s Angela (Dorina Lazar) lives a less stressful, if not necessarily better, life as a taxi driver in Ceaușescu’s Bucharest. 

Where Jude’s previous feature, “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” could be didactic at times, “Do Not Expect…” slips its knife between the audience’s ribs with such skill that the severity of the injury isn’t obvious at first. Throughout the film, Angela listens to the radio at an ear-splitting volume as she drives around. In the first half, the content of the lyrics—get money, fuck bitches, party—plays like a comment on the coarseness of our era. Then, later on, a passenger asks Angela to turn the music down. She apologizes and says that she would, but she’s afraid she’ll fall asleep at the wheel if she does. What appears to be shallow indulgence is actually a survival mechanism.

Nihilistic hedonism also seems to be the driving factor behind the film’s most cryptic element: Angela’s online alter ego, Bobita. A shit-talking misogynist who namedrops Andrew Tate and worships Vladimir Putin, bald, male Bobita is the crudest and most obnoxious element of a world defined by its crudity—a signature of Jude’s films that also appeared in “Bad Luck Banging.” Some of Angela’s friends and colleagues find Bobita amusing. Others do not. When pressed about what she’s going for with all of this, Angela fumes: “I’m like Charlie Hebdo, sucker!”

Does she mean that? Does it matter? Sure, she’s going on TikTok and calling all women whores. But the greater evil is happening behind the scenes, by nice people who have all kinds of nice rationalizations about how the workers they’re exploiting are really at fault, because they let themselves be exploited. In such soil, how could anything but a vulgar flower grow? 

A corporate video is not art, as much as its director might want it to be. And yet, the people who work on such projects are expected to display the slavish devotion of passionate and committed artists. Working 18 or 20 hours a day to produce commercial content isn’t worth it, that much is clear. That raises more questions, though: Is “art,” however you define it, any more worthy of sacrificing the safety and sanity of human beings? Is any of this worth it? And do the people for whom we’re sacrificing so much even notice, let alone care?  Overtime comes up a lot in “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World,” a cynical and bone-dry satire from Romanian director Radu Jude. Using an exhausted production assistant as its vehicle, Jude’s film explores the ways in which the ever-tightening noose of 21-century capitalism chokes the life out of everyday people. Corners are constantly being cut; workers are constantly being asked to do more for less. In Jude’s version of the apocalypse, the light will go out so subtly, we won’t notice until it’s pitch black. And it’ll be a billionaire unscrewing the bulb to save a few cents on electricity.  In the context of the internet, this gradual, Jenga-like collapse is referred to as “enshittification.” In Jude’s film, it’s conveyed through the encroachment of billboards into cemeteries and paychecks that are always late. These annoyances are ever-present in the life of Angela (Ilinca Manolache), the aforementioned PA, whose day begins at 5:50 AM and ends long after dark. The film is structured around a single workday, which for Angela consists mostly of sitting in traffic—another banal misery—in between appointments. Today, she’s auditioning disabled factory workers for a part in a workplace safety video. She’s collecting their sad stories and compiling the footage for her bosses, who will decide that afternoon which of them is just pathetic enough to make for a good cautionary tale. (In a brutal scene later on, a German marketing executive played by Nina Hoss will reject one of the candidates, saying that looking at him makes her too sad.) Angela has been chosen for this role because she’s “one of them.” They trust her. And when the time comes, it’ll be her job to twist the knife.  “Do Not Expect…” culminates in a masterfully executed sequence that distills the film’s themes into a single, unbroken shot—ostensibly the raw footage from the PSA—where a poor family is manipulated into undermining their own interests in bleakly funny fashion. The road there is full of small indignities and absurd ironies, peppered with pop-culture references (including a surreal cameo from one Dr. Uwe Boll) and fueled by the energy drinks Angela gulps to stay awake. These scenes are woven in with footage from the 1981 Romanian film “Angela Drives On,” in which a previous generation’s Angela (Dorina Lazar) lives a less stressful, if not necessarily better, life as a taxi driver in Ceaușescu’s Bucharest.  Where Jude’s previous feature, “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” could be didactic at times, “Do Not Expect…” slips its knife between the audience’s ribs with such skill that the severity of the injury isn’t obvious at first. Throughout the film, Angela listens to the radio at an ear-splitting volume as she drives around. In the first half, the content of the lyrics—get money, fuck bitches, party—plays like a comment on the coarseness of our era. Then, later on, a passenger asks Angela to turn the music down. She apologizes and says that she would, but she’s afraid she’ll fall asleep at the wheel if she does. What appears to be shallow indulgence is actually a survival mechanism. Nihilistic hedonism also seems to be the driving factor behind the film’s most cryptic element: Angela’s online alter ego, Bobita. A shit-talking misogynist who namedrops Andrew Tate and worships Vladimir Putin, bald, male Bobita is the crudest and most obnoxious element of a world defined by its crudity—a signature of Jude’s films that also appeared in “Bad Luck Banging.” Some of Angela’s friends and colleagues find Bobita amusing. Others do not. When pressed about what she’s going for with all of this, Angela fumes: “I’m like Charlie Hebdo, sucker!” Does she mean that? Does it matter? Sure, she’s going on TikTok and calling all women whores. But the greater evil is happening behind the scenes, by nice people who have all kinds of nice rationalizations about how the workers they’re exploiting are really at fault, because they let themselves be exploited. In such soil, how could anything but a vulgar flower grow?  Read More