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Radu Jude with cast and crew on the set of Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (2024)

At the Closing Ceremony of the Locarno Film Festival last year, Radu Jude and I huddled together at the entrance to the red carpet with about two dozen other folks, holding up a banner that read “Woman Life Freedom”—the slogan of the Iranian women’s uprising of 2022. Jude had won the Special Jury Prize earlier that day for his new movie, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World. The winner of the Golden Leopard was Critical Zone, by Iranian filmmaker Ali Ahmadzadeh. As we stood behind barricades, waiting for the stage manager’s cue, Jude turned to me and said, “Do you think that when they stormed the Bastille they waited patiently in line for their cue?” A few minutes later, we were in front of the Piazza Grande. Photographers swarmed around us, taking pictures of the banner, while the enormous screen above us displayed an advertisement for a Swiss bank, UBS.

The moment was a fitting end to a festival abuzz with discourse about Jude’s new movie. Like much of his work, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World distills the ironies of a postmodern reality where politics plays out in the flat, reflexive world of spectacle. The main thread of this knotted feature follows Angela (Ilinca Manolache), a production assistant for an advertising firm, who drives around Bucharest auditioning victims of accidents at a German-owned furniture factory for an appearance in a workplace safety video designed, slyly, to exonerate the corporation. Angela is also an influencer with a crude Instagram persona named “Bobita” that parodies Andrew Tate (who, in a cosmic coincidence, was released from house arrest in Bucharest the day that Do Not Expect premiered in Locarno). Her restless driving and striving is interwoven with scenes from a 1981 Romanian movie, Angela Moves On by Lucian Bratu, which depicts the life of a woman cab driver during the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceaușescu.

These are only a few of the media artifacts in this film of densely packed references, which portrays our globalized world as a labyrinth where the seemingly open roads of free-market capitalism repeatedly reveal themselves as cul-de-sacs. Like Bad Luck Banging or Loony PornDo Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is abrasive: the present-day scenes are in coarse, high-contrast black and white; everyday racism and sexism are portrayed with serrated directness. But unlike the many trickster artists and dirtbag leftists of today, who seek refuge from sincerity in satire, Jude imbues his work with genuine pathos. You will laugh, but you will also emerge scathed, because as outlandish as his gags may be, they are rooted firmly in reality—as Jude detailed to me in an extended conversation the morning before the Closing Ceremony at Locarno.

I wanted to ask about the central motif of a woman driving a car. You’ve said you already had that in mind as the spine of the film and then looked for an older film with the same motif. Driving is also central in Bad Luck Banging, and the car is in fact a very symbolic space in cinema—one that is both inside and outside, both private and public.

True. And also, in the second part of Do Not Expect, the guy is crippled because of a car.

It’s interesting, because the car represents the constant movement required by late capitalism. But in the 1981 film, it’s a space of independence and autonomy. 

I grew up in a time after the revolution, when there were a lot of foreign companies coming to make films in Romania, mainly for cheap labor and cheap access to locations. The good technicians in Romanian cinema were trained by working on these film sets. I worked for many years on these sets and witnessed a lot of things. After years passed, all of a sudden, these stories seemed to me as having a kind of exemplary power—they represent very well the way the post-totalitarian economy and society was organized. After the dictatorship of Ceaușescu, all of a sudden there were certain freedoms, and the authorities saying that the free market will solve everything. The freer it is—and it sounds nice—the better things will be. Then you discover some things work in this way but others don’t. If you let the market go completely free, you end up in the situation where everything is sold and bought, and what should be public—like parks, schools, health—is disappearing.

One of the stories that inspired the film is the real case of a production assistant who had an accident after many, many hours of driving, and died. I knew I wanted to make a kind of urban road movie and started to think about what kind of films like that existed in Romania. I also thought of Don DeLillo’s book Cosmopolis. The first part of this movie is like Cosmopolis, but with a working-class person—not with a limousine, but with a shitty, ugly car. Her whole life is connected to this car.

Road movies are usually about the quest for freedom. This movie contradicts the genre, in a way. 

True, Thelma & LouiseEasy Rider. I think it’s because in my movie it is connected to work, and like Godard said, we don’t see a lot of work in cinema. When it’s work, it’s not freedom anymore. It’s like being on a jury. It’s nice to watch films, but if you’re doing it on a jury, and you cannot leave after five minutes if the film is bad, then it might be too much—torture.

No comment!

No Film Comment! [laughs] I saw Lucian Bratu’s film [Angela Moves On, 1981], which upon first view, is not very subversive. But the screenwriter was a woman, Eva Sîrbu, and it’s now embraced by younger critics as a feminist film, because it shows a woman driving, doing a man’s profession, and doing it well. But most of the film is about a love story.

Then you discover that the film has a lot of subversive elements. I give you only one: the main actor, Vasile Miske, is Hungarian. Ceaușescu’s regime was very nationalistic, and Hungarian minorities had a lot of problems. So casting a Hungarian actor was a subversive thing. But his name was changed in the credits—his real name is László Miske, but it appears as Vasile Miske. When I asked him about it, he said there was a big discussion in the censorship, and they chose a Romanian peasant name for him. In my film, in the credits, I crossed out the fake name and included his real name.

In your films, there’s an interest in cinema and other media objects as actual vehicles of politics—even going back to The Happiest Girl in the World (2009), which is about the shooting of a commercial. 

Yes, I even worked with the same crew in the second part of Do Not Expect. It’s like a remake!

Oh, wow! I was thinking about how you bring all these different media objects onto the same level. There’s the commercial director in Do Not Expect who wants to shoot on 4K and has all these high-art references—

But is making a shitty thing.

Exactly. He says that Méliès made mustard commercials, and that the Lumière brothers’ films were advertisements for their factories. It’s interesting how you bring cinema and commercials, and even social media and sex tapes in Bad Luck Banging, into the same image-scape. There’s something equalizing about your approach. Is the idea that under modern capitalism, the way we produce and consume images is all the same, no matter the medium?

Yes, but it needs some nuance. As much as I find this theory very rich I also find it—not dangerous, but also not very exact. It might be because you’re a programmer and film critic, so you see things from that perspective. I’m a filmmaker and a film lover, so I see the images through these two perspectives. As a viewer, I think it’s like Umberto Eco said—the object of research doesn’t matter, it’s the method that counts. It doesn’t matter if you research a good or bad film, what matters is what you find there. From that perspective, everything is interesting. But when I step into the filmmaker’s shoes, I discover that the images you create can only be made in the one way, which you, as the filmmaker, consider good. Everything is good for analysis, but when you create something, not everything is a good model for what you do. From this point of view, I don’t like Bratu’s film, his direction. But there’s something there that I appreciate when I switch to analyzing. That’s my thing—everything is cinema, like the title of Richard Brody’s book, when you see the world with these tools.

One of my favorite anecdotes about cinema is what Naum Kleiman said about Eisenstein’s bookshelves. They were not organized alphabetically or by field, but on montage principles. So you would have a Napoleon biography close to some book about genetic anomalies, or you would have Ulysses close to Alice in Wonderland. His bookshelves were the greatest films he didn’t shoot.

I watch everything. When I’m in the subway in Bucharest, I watch the advertisements on the TV sets there, or watch the web cameras.

Then what is specific to cinema for you?

I’m very basic. The process of recording reality and transforming it into moving images.

But that applies to advertising, too. 

Yeah, but all are forms of cinema.

You believe they’re all forms of cinema? 

Absolutely. If they’re images that move, they’re cinema. Of course, if you’re a programmer for a festival, you’ll judge if one is better than the other. Everyone has his or her own taste. But if you have some common ground, you can have a dialogue. I remember speaking with someone and the discussion got heated. She was not a cinema person, so to speak. I said I consider Life Is Beautiful one of the most horrible things I’ve seen in my life and an insulting film to the memory of Holocaust victims. She called me an imbecile, because she cried during this film. How could I say it wasn’t a good film when she was moved? If your definition of a good film is that it moves you, then I can’t argue. There’s this kind of bubble.

We were talking about Barbie yesterday and you described it as an advertisement. 

A good one!

And I know you’re making a film about commercials—about post-Ceaușescu advertisements.

It’s finished. It’s in post-production. It’s made together with Christian Ferencz-Flatz, a philosopher.

When you call something an advertisement, are you being pejorative? Is it cinema if it’s made to sell something? 

No. It’s a descriptor. If you look at the history of art, painters were making ads for princes or aristocrats. So no, it’s not pejorative. Of course, if you describe it as… “do you like it or don’t you?” I just read some young critics and filmmakers from Romania say that Barbie is good because you hear the word “patriarchy.” So maybe a young girl hears the word for the first time and investigates more, and starts reading Judith Butler. I’m older and I’m not so optimistic about that. I remember when I was younger, I hated this film called Shakespeare in Love.

I loved that movie when I was 15.

When it came out, there was a debate in the media. Most of the people who defended the film said it was maybe the first time young people had heard of Shakespeare and the movie would lead them to the next bookshop to get his complete works. It didn’t happen. This is not the planet of Shakespearologists.

Also, a film cannot aim for the lowest-common denominator. The aim can’t be to tell them the word patriarchy if you want them to read Judith Butler. If you want them to read Butler, make a film about her.

But it’s a vicious circle, and then you don’t know how to get out of it. I’m sometimes accused, especially in Romania, of making elitist films, because they’re not commercial enough. My answer is that I worked for many years in commercial television, shooting everything, from TV shows to tele-shopping—belts to make you lose fat, that kind of thing. Whenever you would have meetings with the bosses, the first thing they would say is, “don’t forget the audience is composed of stupid housewives, drunkards, imbeciles—the scum of the earth—so feed them shit.” And this is considered by some people as “loving” the audience! So whenever I hear filmmakers talking about how their films are made for the audience, for me that is elitism, treating viewers like they’re inferior. I try to offer the best thing I’m capable of. I never think they’re so stupid that they won’t get what I’m doing. If that’s being an elitist, then I prefer that to being someone who hates the masses.

Angela is asked at one point if she worries that people will think she means the awful things she says as Bobita, and she replies that it’s satire. I was thinking about how it’s the poor quality of the Instagram filter—its glitchiness—that makes it satire. This imperfect simulation allows her to both use the image of Andrew Tate and critique it. That’s very much your mode of satire, too—your films often embody the very object of their critique, and it’s possible that someone might not understand that it is critique. For example, there are characters in the film who say awful things about Romani people, and someone who shares that sentiment might feel emboldened. So how do you disrupt the image, use it against itself? 

I wouldn’t use the word satire, but caricature. In a caricature, you don’t have realism. You have an exaggeration that’s obvious, and the exaggeration, pushing things to the limit, makes it a critique. Of course, what you say about the imperfections adds to that. But I’m not sure that even if the filter were perfect, it would change much of the movie. Things don’t exist by themselves, they exist in a context. If you take one element out of the film and decontextualize it, then it’s dangerous.

I made a film, The Exit of the Trains [2020], with photos from the Romanian Holocaust. The film has 20 minutes of a massacre that was heavily documented. The historian I made the film with, Adrian Cioflâncã, when he searched for the images, we discovered there are a lot of people who get an erotic kick out of watching massacres or violent images. So imagine that someone says to you that if you put these images on the screen, some people will enjoy them. Then you cannot do anything. To sum it up, I think that one of the functions of cinema is to test the limits of things, because you test it in the art context, and not in the real world.

The board of European financing, they said they liked the film, but I had to take out all of Bobita’s videos. They said they didn’t bring anything to the story and the film could work without it.

I’m also curious about your approach to profanity. And I don’t mean certain words, but the idea of the profane.

Vulgar, let’s say.

I’m more interested in the idea of the profane, because it’s the opposite of the sacred. 

What’s outside the temple.

Exactly. Absolutely nothing is sacred in your films. Everything and everyone is insulted. There’s even a joke about Godard which I think some would take offense to, since he died recently and he’s—

For me he’s like a God.

Yes, but that doesn’t stop you from taking a jab at him. I think this idea of profanity is related to what you’re saying about satire. There is this intelligent crudeness in your work. 

I don’t think I can generalize, because I really think there are things you can’t laugh about, or it depends on how you do it. I was always careful not to be profane against weak people.

Like punching down?

Yes. For me that’s something I wouldn’t do. In the case of Godard, he didn’t have anything sacred. He killed himself, through assisted euthanasia. When that happened, since Romania is a very religious country, there were people saying, “This guy did such a horrible thing.” On the contrary, when I found out, it felt like one of his jokes. In a way, the ultimate one. I strongly believe all arts should be fields where more things should be open to be tested, and not be subject to the same kind of care they require in political discourse. If you apply the codes of conduct of everyday life to art, then 90 percent of it would disappear. But I’m not against cancel culture. It’s very good. I’m canceling in my mind and in my practice, in my viewing and reading, everyday, everybody.

I wanted to ask about the performers in the film. How did you get in touch with the actors from Lucian Bratu’s movie? 

That wasn’t very hard, because Dorina Lazar, who plays Angela in the older film, is very well known, doing lots of theater.

What was her reaction? 

I can’t tell you. Because we fooled her. [laughs] She mentioned that, knowing what she knew about my films, she didn’t want to be in anything vulgar. So I said, “don’t worry, it won’t be.” I will be punished in hell…

What is the role of vulgarity in your work?

It’s a reflection on society. For me, there is no vulgarity—only exploitation or doing harm to others. Even in porn, if it’s a consensual interaction, there’s no “pornography” in the moral sense. For me, vulgarity is using power to humiliate someone. That’s much more vulgar than using the words “cunt” or “fuck.” But for many people, no. Because of that, “vulgarity” still has a power to offend different types of people for different reasons.

So you fooled Dorina?

Otherwise it was impossible to have her. She asked me if she could read the script, and I said, well, it’s improvised. Then she refused to say one of the lines I wrote. It’s when Angela is asking her how life was back in Communist times. There was an actor, who’s dead now, and always when he was asked how was it in the Stalinist times, in the ’50s, he’d say “Oh, in the ’50s, it was a marvelous time, I had a hard on everyday.” Dorina refused to say that. [laughs]. It was a good line!