An Enfant Terrible in Terrible Times: Radu Jude Discusses "Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World"

A conversation with the Romanian auteur about finding humanism in neoliberal rubble.
Dora Leu, Öykü Sofuoğlu

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude, 2023).

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is Radu Jude's deepest inquiry yet into our modern, image-saturated world. TikToks, a proto-feminist film from socialist Romania, a would-be Uwe Boll movie, and gritty black-and-white 16mm shots of a crowded city all coagulate into (another) grim satire about the the state of current-day Romania—and, inevitably, the state of the world, which, of course, seems to be ending. 

As we follow Angela (Ilinca Manolache), an overworked film production assistant, the window of her car, much like a cinema screen, gives us a unique vantage point on a cacophonous Bucharest. Swearing in traffic, absurd arguments, work accidents: Jude throws us into a world of society-wide exhaustion, exacerbated by the tribulations of late capitalism. Yet who’s at fault? No one and everyone, all at once. Exploitation further perpetuates exploitation; souls are crushed under a lack of empathy. Do Not Expect… concludes with the strenuous filming of a workplace safety video, during which the victims of an accident are coerced into lying. Jude’s camera keeps on rolling as the in-film director feeds lines to the victims, an absurd denaturation of general principles that underpin capitalistic hysteria, where corporate keywords masquerade as real communication.  

But all the same, these monsters created by the neoliberal world seem unexpectedly humane, with their own individual flaws, egoistic mindsets, and anxieties. Their monstrosity frightens us, drowns us in despair; still, they make us laugh and we feel for them, for we only see ourselves in them. The impact is akin to that of a meme: everything feels “so relatable,” for better or for worse. As Bobiță, Angela’s parodic avatar reminiscent of an infamous, contemptible social-media king of toxic masculinity, looks straight into the camera and spews indecent language into the viewer’s face, Jude crafts his own version of shock therapy: the excess is here to jolt us out of how inert we’ve become. 

Among these stark blacks and whites of despair, frustration, and disillusionment, we catch brief glimpses of color—as playfully reflected in Angela’s fancy sequin dress, or in footage Jude lifts from Lucian Bratu’s 1981 Romanian film, Angela Goes On. As these two Angelas roam the streets of Bucharest, one in the past and one in the present, we understand that there are no easy roads to travel, whether because of the constant traffic jams or the slow-motion, jerky style that alters the image. While interweaving his own images with Bratu’s, Jude recontextualizes the archival footage by slowing it down and magnifying details that could easily be overlooked. His alterations unearth new layers of meaning that don’t necessarily serve to further the original story, and thus bring forth unforeseen political and social inquiries. Categorically shunning empty formalisms, Jude’s images bear witness to the vivid realities he depicts, and to both communist and capitalist exploitation. 

Countering the titular advice of Polish poet Stanisław Jerzy Lec, Jude seems to tell us that there are still a few modest things to expect, and even to hope for, in this infernal panorama. Toward the end of the film, memorial signs lead our way along a long road, all silent reminders of human compassion; by concluding with a long take of the workplace safety video shoot, the film focuses, finally, on the experiences of real human beings, who look directly at us beyond all the farce and artifice. In the ruins of a system that is falling apart, there are, indeed, some hearts that might still be beating.

On a calm Sunday morning at the Locarno Film Festival, while other festival folk were either enjoying their sleep or the Mexican Popular Cinema retrospective, we wanted to reflect Radu Jude’s honest gaze back to him. The only coffee shop we found that was open on a Sunday sounds hilariously close to one of the Romanian words for oral sex—perhaps fitting for a film that features some of the cheekiest and most irreverent play with language in all of Romanian cinema. “Have you told the owner?” joked Jude.

We spoke with Jude about his relationship with national and international contexts, his filmmaking process and what he’s happy to “steal” from others, and how he wants to make films faster and faster—and make them for the people. 

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude, 2023).

DORA LEU: Like most of your recent films, there are so many layers to Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World that are inherently tied to a local Romanian context. Do you worry that there are some very specific references that an international audience may not be able to pick up on? Or do you think that those references are in any way at all essential to understanding the film?

RADU JUDE: Well, always, any work of art, or, if you will, any work of communication… Umberto Eco wrote extensively on this. A lot of things are left out or are approximated in communication. Eco used to say that he finds it a miracle that we can understand each other. If you take a simple phrase like “A car is passing on the street,” everybody understands it, but if you really think about it, you shouldn’t be able to understand it. What kind of car? What is a car? Who’s driving it? Where is the street? Yet there’s no real problem in understanding what’s being said. Every film, of course, is full of things, be them local or personal, that can be understood by most or by very few. Or, over the years, if the film persists, some meaning will get lost or, on the contrary, some will be better understood.

If you start to think about that, though, where do you draw the line? Someone who was a film student in the UK told me that their professor showed them Chaplin’s The Great Dictator. And the class watched the film and didn’t seem to get much out of it, so the professor tried to explain who Chaplin is caricaturing, and nobody had any idea. Just imagine, if you don’t know about Hitler or what he looked like, the film doesn’t make much sense; you lose a big part of it.

When you see a film in another language or a film dealing with local themes, there are always a lot of things that get lost, but I still believe there is, somehow, an essence that remains to be understood. I think my film is hard to understand, or it has some elements that are hard to understand for many Romanians, even. Not only for foreign people. So yes, a lot gets lost. But think about hieroglyphs: we can sort of understand hieroglyphs now. A film like that wouldn’t all be impossible to get.

ÖYKÜ SOFUOĞLU: Whether they are fiction, documentary, or archival documentary, your films have different ways of communicating ideas. They’re made of layers of texts, visual references, or even, as is the case in this film, of TikTok videos. Do you have different approaches to each of these elements?

JUDE: I think I use them like all the other elements. At some point, I needed to write a short text about the use of voice-over in cinema. The more I thought about it, I had the feeling that there’s nothing to say, because for me, it’s just like any other element. A film is composed of images, sounds, texts, and other sources, like archival images or images made by others. For me, in a way, they become the same thing. So I don’t see many differences. Maybe it’s too stupid, too primitive. When I use material from Bratu’s film, Angela Moves On, they become my images. In the editing software, there are the images I shot and there are the ones that were shot by others, in this case by Bratu, and they are the same. Of course, I handle them differently; I want to see that the sources are different. But it felt like they were my images. 

LEU: There’s Angela the main character, there’s Angela from Bratu’s film, but a third Angela also comes to mind. I know you’re very fond of the work of Angela Ricci Lucchi and Yervant Gianikian. The way you treat the footage lifted from Angela Moves On, these slowdowns reminded me very strongly of the same formal devices that they use—

JUDE: Yeah, I stole it from them. Completely.

LEU: Were you interested in any kind of similar discourse, about reclaiming images from the past?

JUDE: Actually, not really. I know their work very well—I’ve just written a text on them for a collective book that is going to be published by Amsterdam University Press. When you watch their films, it’s obviously about seeing better. Sometimes, with the regular speed of a film, you don’t have time to notice details, gestures or elements in the recorded image which are otherwise very relevant. By slowing them down and zooming in, you make them more visible. Those cinéma verité shots from Angela Moves On, which interested me the most, are very short. I don’t know if that was because of the censorship or if it was bad direction—I don’t think Bratu was a very good director during those years. I think in all of his last films there’s something that wasn’t well made. I think he was a very intelligent guy, more refined than most Romanian filmmakers, but not a very good one. [Laughs.] Better than me, for sure. 

We decided to slow down the bits from Angela after we started editing it and realized that there are things that are hard to notice in those images. It was interesting because Cătălin [Cristuțiu]’s software, whatever it is, doesn’t have a good way, so to speak, of slowing down the images and sound. I said, “Let’s do it, somehow, by hand, with a mouse, and we’ll slow it down properly in the final [edit].” But I started more and more to like this sloppy way of slowing it down, and we kept it like that. It’s not a nice slow motion. It’s more broken.  

SOFUOĞLU: I thought that these scenes were more like a reference to Godard’s Sauve qui peut (la vie), in which, while riding her bike, Isabelle Huppert’s character was filmed in a similar way to these stop-action shots.

JUDE: I thought more of Angela Ricci Lucchi than Godard. But now that you mention him, Godard is like a god for me. He’s everywhere. 

LEU: Do you feel more comfortable now getting compared to Godard?

JUDE: I feel very embarrassed. Come on. The comparison can only be not in my favor. I gladly accept it.

LEU: At what point in the process did the idea to use Bratu’s film come up?

JUDE: It was just by pure accident. It all came from a misunderstanding of Marius Panduru, the DP. I watched the film when I was rewriting the script, and I liked it very much—in a certain way, though. I liked the potentialities that it had. I thought it was a failed film, and that it’s too bad Bratu didn’t make it properly. And so I said that I would do a remake at some point. 

After a few months I realized that, in a way, I was already doing a remake with this woman who’s driving, so I could pay a small homage by making her meet the old characters. The idea was to make a flashback just for that scene, using footage from Angela, but Marius understood that there would be cross-cutting between the two stories in every scene. I thought that was a better idea and changed it. It was a bit easier to construct the first part of the film afterwards, because many of the driving routes are taken from that film. There are more routes and driving scenes in my film, though, because in Angela they only shot in the nicer parts of Bucharest, because of censorship.  

LEU: There are a few scenes that are reminiscent of your earlier work. There’s a neighborhood in Bucharest that you also film a lot in Everybody in Our Family (2012); the last scene calls back to The Happiest Girl in the World (2009), but also maybe to A Film for Friends (2011), in terms of its length. Was there any conscious self-referencing? Or is it something that just came naturally?

JUDE: That last scene is, if you want, like a remake of The Happiest Girl in the World; for the crew, I used the same actors. The self-referencing came because it seemed to me that, if I did the scene this way, it would be too close to my first feature. I initially thought that I should find a different way, but because it’s based on a real story, I thought that the story deserves to be told as it happened, more or less, so why not make it some sort of ridiculous continuation to what I’ve done before. But self-referencing sounds very important. I’d say it’s more of a self-mocking. You know, maybe I can do another continuation in a few years.

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude, 2023).

SOFUOĞLU: In terms of visual or textual references, how do they find their way into your film? And how do you determine whether these references will directly appear as quotes, or if they will be conveyed more indirectly through dialogue? 

JUDE: Most of them are spoken by characters. I don’t know, maybe this is my way of thinking. I’m not intelligent enough to think for myself, as they say. I need something to fire up my thinking. I’m always copying things, saving book pages, images, photos. I have a folder for texts, a folder for images, a folder for vernacular archives, so to speak; things from the internet, not from feature films. When making a film, I revisit them. But there are too many things. I have two Word documents with 800 pages each. I have a folder with thousands of images. Paintings, photos, memes go there. Another folder with moving images, but not films, taken down from the internet. There are also lots of things on my phone. So, I use them consciously. 

The film was made so fast. We wanted it to be made like that, because the speed of work has an impact. I’m not saying whether it’s good or bad. If a painter finishes a painting in five minutes, it’s different from taking ten days, or even waiting for a year. The results cannot be the same. As in the films, you can spend five years developing it, then you can shoot it in two months. Maybe something great might come out of it, but it’s not the case for me anyway. So I tried to go in the other direction and said, “Let’s make it as fast as possible.” And it was really fast. The shooting took 22 days and we only worked for 8 or 9 hours per day. 

SOFUOĞLU: Is speed a part of your approach to filmmaking? 

JUDE: Yes, I want to work faster as I grow older. So I can trick the biology a little bit: I want to make more films and make them faster. Like Fassbinder, an old version of Fassbinder without talent and, sadly, without cocaine. Actually, I recently rewatched a lot of Fassbinder and I think it’s great that he made so many bad movies. Some of them are awfully bad but some are absolutely great. And I think the speed of work was important for him, and for me as well. What’s to lose? You want to win which award? In the end, the cinema is in such a terrible state, but on the other hand, it’s in such a beautiful state. Because it’s so democratized in other ways. 

I read an interview with Nae Caranfil that I think was published a few months ago. Someone asked him what advice he would give to a young person who’s starting to make films. He answered: “I would say, don’t do it.” And they asked why, and he said: “Because now you, as a professional filmmaker, are equal to a Gigel, a young boy in the street who takes his phone out and pretends he made a movie with it.” Well, I’m enthusiastic about that. On the contrary, I don’t see a problem. Because the technology is so accessible and cheaper, I’m always asking myself and my students that I teach at Babeș-Bolyai University in Cluj: “Why still make one film a year? Why not make one film a week?” Nobody does it, and I don’t do it either. But I think I’ll do it at some point. 

SOFUOĞLU: I think it’s an economic model that has an impact on aesthetics, as well. Similar to Fassbinder, one can see this speed in Quentin Dupieux or Hong Sang-soo’s filmmaking practices today. This model also allows you to work with people you really trust, like a theatrical troupe. 

JUDE: If you can have that, yes, but I don’t. Anyway, I want to speed up the rhythm a little bit, and to make some films with bigger budgets. Because I can’t make a living out of small budget films, since I am not a producer. I need to make bigger films with a regular production and coproduction system. I’m preparing … a Dracula film. It’s not really Dracula but something close to it. It’s called Dracula Park. Neil Young told me that I should call it Park Dracula. But I think Dracula Park sounds better. I want the film to be like an amusement park.

SOFUOĞLU: Guy Maddin made a ballet film about Dracula, Pages from a Virgin’s Diary. Have you watched it? 

JUDE: I didn’t like it. I like his films but I was a bit disappointed. You know, the black and white…

LEU: It’s so uncommon to use black and white nowadays in Romanian cinema.

JUDE: Oppenheimer, you know. It’s a Hollywood device now.

LEU: With Aferim!, for example, you had a certain historical visual concept, and you had another Bratu film, Tudor (1963), as an aesthetic reference. What was the reasoning behind the black-and-white parts in Do Not Expect…?

JUDE: It’s been out of necessity, as well. When I decided to include these images from Angela, I had to make a video to present the project for the Luxembourg fund. It was supposed to be a video where I would be talking about the film, but I thought that would be too lame, so I did like a ten-minute film shot on a phone with Ilinca [Manolache], and with a voice-over and some images from Bratu’s film. Even if the texture was very different, their feedback was that it was very hard to tell the archival footage apart. I realized that I may have a problem if I did it all in color. I thought a solution to that could be a different color grading, or to shoot it with a phone, but there was already the phone filter for Ilinca’s avatar videos. 

We decided to go for black and white 16mm, which I had never shot on before, but then to really push it in the lab. It’s pushed two stops, which means it’s underexposed and then it was pushed in the processing. That’s why it’s really grainy. Not many people know how to process that anymore, so we had to change the lab at some point, one of the labs destroyed some film stock. We actually kept it like that, there are some parts where it’s even dirtier and grainier, especially in the scenes with Uwe Boll, for example.

A film is always a way to explore something technically, too. You can read about it, or you can watch films by others, but you can’t really understand how film stock or other tools work unless you use them, unless you see the results with your own eyes. 

LEU: Those poorly processed bits reminded me a bit of a student film, or at least of how some of the films coming out of the film schools in Romania used to look in the early 2000s.

JUDE: I also had a feeling that it feels like a student film, like a bad student film. It’s shot without lights, only with natural lighting. In the second part there’s a light on the actors, because it’s part of the dramaturgy. With Nina Hoss I told Marius that we should look professional, so let’s put some light on Nina so she won’t think we’re two idiots.

LEU: Did you have Nina Hoss in mind from the beginning?

JUDE: I wanted to cast a foreign actress, but didn’t have anyone specific in mind. It was Ada Solomon, the producer’s suggestion, and I thought it was a brilliant proposal. I didn’t know if Nina would accept a small part in a Romanian film made by a Romanian filmmaker, so we had a Zoom meeting with her, explained the project, and she was committed. She was very generous.

SOFUOĞLU: I was fascinated by the way you give your actors space and agency to express themselves. For example, Ovidiu Pîrsan is a disabled person, he’s not acting, it’s his real condition. And Ilinca is actually the creator of this Bobiță character in her feminist and performative series on social media. 

JUDE: Yes, unfortunately I can’t take credit for that character, I would be very happy if I could say that was my creation. But I don’t know how to answer this. It comes from what’s in my mind and what’s relevant for the movie. But with regards to people with disabilities, I always wanted to work with them. Through Florentina Bratfanof, the casting agent, I asked an association if they would be interested in this, or if that would be a burden for them. Actually, all of them were quite enthusiastic. Then, together with Florentina, we did a very small casting session with eight people, and we had four to choose from. I also didn’t want to do a long casting process because I felt bad putting people in this condition in auditions. And I chose Ovidiu. Ovidiu really wanted the part. He came to Bucharest in his car and told me, “I want to show you how good I am.” But I wasn’t sure if he could manage to learn the text and do the long take. But I had a solution for that. I didn’t tell him this, but if he couldn’t do it, I would also make him mute in the story. And Katia Pascariu, who plays his wife, would speak instead of him. So I was really relaxed during the rehearsals. But I think in the end he did really well.

SOFUOĞLU: As you use the film to denounce the exploitative system in the audiovisual industry, do you defy it with your own work ethic as well? 

JUDE: I try, especially with the casting. Casting is one of the most stressful things for me. I try to do it less and less, and I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not. For example, there were actors and actresses who wanted to audition for the film. I had already done the casting and only had two or small parts left. And they said that it wasn't fair. I understand this but, on the other hand, I feel so uncomfortable when people come in, you look at them and say things like Turn around, repeat the line, come back tomorrow. It’s uncomfortable for actors as well. Of course it’s part of their job; I’m not judging that. 

LEU: With some of the actors that you’ve already worked with, I suppose you’ve also formed a relationship of trust. As in, it might be easier to discuss what they might be getting into.

JUDE: It’s not only that kind of trust, it’s also a trust in their abilities. One of the things with actors is that you might cast wrongly. Especially with Romanian actors, it’s also an ego thing. People say directors are egotistical and narcissistic, which is true to a certain extent, and some more than others, but it’s true with actors, as well. It’s kind of a toxic school of acting in Romania. There really are some actors who come and play a power game in the first days of the shooting. I don’t know how to deal with that. Should you be aggressive and crush them, like what Lucian Pintilie used to say? I use that [approach] sometimes, with the film crew. I think especially in Romania, where the relationships [in film] are much more aggressive, much more primitive, in a way, a film crew is like a power game. I’ve seen it happening. If the crew feels like the director is weak, they can crush him or manipulate him. If he loses the power, an actor will come up and say “Well, fuck you, I won’t do what you want me to,” or the electrician will start mocking him. It’s a hierarchical system, even if you want it or not, even if you use it or not—I try not to. But then, sometimes, you have to show that power, which is not in my nature at all.

It's a difficult balance to find, and it does happen the other way. With the actress who appears in the original Angela, Dorina Lazăr, there were some lines that I wanted her to say and she absolutely wouldn’t. Normally, I’d kick someone out for that on the spot. But here I needed her specifically. She was very smart and very experienced in the game; she was like the boss in those scenes. And I let her do it—what’s to do? I can’t convince you, I can’t force you, and I can’t fire you. It felt like she was somehow defending this character in very idealistic terms. We cannot treat Angela like this! We cannot make her say these vulgar things, or say bad things about her husband, because she loves him.

With someone like Șerban Pavlu, I can trust that not only is he good, but that he won’t play power games with me. And I won’t play power games with him. Or with Katia, or with Ilinca. I’m not someone thriving off [of] conflicts. Conflicts make me feel uneasy. They make me feel like giving up. Some people really like conflicts, chaotic sets, stress, all those kinds of tensions. 

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World (Radu Jude, 2023).

LEU: For me this was perhaps one of the most emotional films you’ve recently done. Sometimes Romanian audiences, well mostly ethnically Romanian, accuse you of “not making films for them.” Do Not Expect… felt like there was a greater sense of kinship than before—as if you were holding our hands and saying that the world is going to end, but that you’re here with all of us, we’re going through it together.

JUDE: I thought about those accusations a lot. I always felt like I am not making films for an elite, I make films for everybody. And yet, I think that there are people who are simply not interested and will say my films are not for them—and that’s okay, if you’re not interested, you’re not interested. Personally, I am not interested in football—well, I have to be, because of my younger kid—but nothing would convince me that football is interesting to watch. Maybe playing it is.

I think, on the contrary, I am someone who makes films for the people, for the audience, because I respect them. I’ve worked in advertising and in television—I did everything from live TV to teleshopping to make a living. The big bosses of TV, who often say “We do it for the audience”: do you know how they speak about the audience? They talk about them like they are cattle, like they are morons of the highest order. They’ll say, “Don’t do this in our TV show, because don’t forget we address ourselves to imbeciles and they won’t understand this.” Do you want me to say that this is respectful for the audience? I’m sorry, I only see utter contempt. 

From my point of view, I am respecting the audience by trying to offer them the best that I can with my abilities. Maybe I’m not good enough, and I can understand that. Whenever I hear people say that, consciously, they want to make a popular film or a commercial film for the people, I only hear the bosses of TV and their contempt. I am interested in cinema, I believe in it, I am making it, so I am making it for everybody; I want to share it with everybody. 

SOFUOĞLU: I can imagine how people ask you the same questions over and over in interviews: “What do you think of TikTok?”; “What is your relationship with social media?” As a very spontaneous person, how do you deal with these roundtables and avoid repeating yourself?

JUDE: I try to perfect my answers. Actually, it’s true that it’s annoying. Yesterday for example, I had ten hours of interviews. And sometimes the questions are the same. “What’s this Angela Moves On film? Tell us about it.” Just Google it, baby! I remember that I had a meeting with Adina Pintilie and some Belgian journalists two years ago. The discussion was supposed to go on, but Adina did something great. She said: “I sent you a PDF of frequently asked questions and my answers are there. If you need something else, please let me know.” It’s funny and ridiculous, and maybe I have to do it, too. To play the game.

SOFUOĞLU: I hope we didn’t ask the same questions.

JUDE: Well, you know, I don’t know…

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