Don’t expect too much from End of the World review – dizzying Romanian experience | Movies

ROmani filmmaker Radu Jude won the Golden Bear in Berlin last year for his wacky Covid-era film Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Now he’s back with another talkative essay-movie-slash-dark comedy collage, peppered with literary quotes, jokes, cinephile side-kicks and references to Romania’s most notorious foreign resident: our very own Andrew. Tate. The title is a maxim by the Polish poet and aphorist Stanisław Jerzy Lec.

It’s another jittery, edgy film, an experimental adventure in which narrative is of only incidental importance, compulsively testing the limits and textures of contemporary experience, always digressing and pausing and intrigued by the world filtered by the cinema screen, the Zoom screen, 4K, 8K, livestream and TikTok and raising a continuous white noise of complaint about modern Romania: the degradation of its public space, the misery of its continuous infatuation for strong leaders, its racism and its incompetent embrace of capitalism and the free market. It’s also a film about the making of the image: one of the characters silently wonders about the assisted death of Jean-Luc Godard – even if perhaps the spirit of Godard lives on here at Radu Jude.

I wasn’t sure about the last part of this film: a very long locked continuous shot of a family group whose history reveals how workers are exploited: I felt that it let out some of the energy of the film, though no doubt mimicked the precise way in which corporate employees, freelancers, and a film’s subjects can be carelessly overlooked in the same way. But there is such a flurry of ideas here.

The subject is Angela (Ilinca Manolache), a harassed, sleep-deprived production assistant for a Romanian film and video company in Bucharest – where a sign ominously announces it as a “martyr city”. Her employer, with whom she seems to have a short-term contract as negligible as the relationship between Uber driver and passenger, receives a commission from a cautious Austrian company with branches in Romania whose shy marketing director is played by Nina Hoss.

The Austrians want them to create a safety video, urging workers to wear safety clothes and equipment, containing the testimony of a person who was disabled on the job, and ready to say on camera that it was all due their inability to wear a helmet, etc. in other words, blaming themselves rather than the bosses. Poor Angela has to drive endlessly and frantically, using her smartphone to audition disabled people who are willing to do so for the promised sum of €1,000. It’s a miserable life for Angela, whose only pleasure is posting clips on TikTok where she pretends to be Andrew Tate: spitting misogynistic bile and worshiping Vladimir Putin. She even gets to interview cult German director Uwe Boll (playing himself) famous for his tasteless pulp shockers and his hatred of snobbish critics. These videos are in color; the rest of his life is in grainy monochrome.

Along with all of this, Jude samples clips from a 1981 Ceaușescu-era Romanian film titled Angela Moves On, starring now-veteran Romanian actress Dorina Lazar as a taxi driver who finds herself in a relationship with one of its passengers. At one point, Nina Hoss’ character marvels at the monolithic and grotesque “Ceauseșcu Palace” in the middle of the city: the 1981 film has a scene set in the rather pleasant “Uranus” district which was razed shortly after to make way for this colossal monument to the tyrant’s ego.

Are the two Angelas in parallel universes? Not enough. The two women occupy the same fictional space: this same former taxi driver from the 1981 film, much older today and of course embodied by Lazar nowadays, answers Angèle’s door (the oldest is delighted with the karmic duplication of their names and the similarity of their jobs). Her son is now in a wheelchair and hopes to be in the video. Her lover in the 1981 film, played by László Miske is there too – now her aging but lively husband, gallantly flirting with this young Angela. It’s wheelchair-bound son Ovidiu (Ovidiu Pîrsan) who gets the €1,000 gig, but ultimately causes a protracted meltdown by insisting on camera that it was the employers’ fault.

And the rest of the time we only see Angela’s stressful and boring existence and perhaps the highlight comes when she has to drive the haughty character of Nina Hoss to her posh hotel in Bucharest from the airport and him says that the roads are so dangerous (due to lack of planning or safety) that they are almost lined with makeshift crosses: memorials to the dead on the highway. Jude then stops the film and plays in a long montage of stills of these actual Romanian road crosses of all shapes and sizes: some tattered, some looking expensive. Jude invites us to see how the whole subject revolves in Angela’s mind: her father’s grave was exhumed because a company claims to own this part of the cemetery.

The result is bitter and strange and fragmented and often bizarrely funny. It’s a film that goes in circles and refuses to settle on any particular tone, or decide what the central point really is, or tell us precisely what kind of satire it is, or whether it’s a satirizes at all. Opinions may be divided on this last section – like I said, I wasn’t sure. But it’s a cinema of ideas, and the new Romanian wave is still reaching impressive heights.

Don’t expect too much from the end of the world screened at the Locarno Film Festival.

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