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Film Reviews: “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World” & “The Beast”

Station Blog2024-4-18By: Marc Glassman


Foreign Gifts

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World & The Beast

By Marc Glassman


Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World

Radu Jude, director

Starring: Illinca Manolache (Angela), Nina Hoss (Doris Goethe), Ovidiu Pirsan (as himself), 

Dorina Lazar (Angela Coman), Uwe Boll (as himself)


Radu Jude has a well-deserved reputation as one of the bad boys of cinema, the creator of the blackest of comedies emerging from contemporary Romania, but he has outdone himself with Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World. Despite the apocalyptic title, this is not science-fiction; in fact, it feels all too real. Over the course of a day, showing an over-worked production assistant resentfully handling every task thrown to her by a struggling film company, Jude skewers modern-day Romania, its corrupt politics, rampant capitalism, previous old-style Communism, sexism, and just about everything else, including traffic jams and terrible highway driving. Jude’s sensibility is so vicious and all-encompassing that it’s hard to laugh at the absurd behaviour that is being shown, and yet it is very much in the comic tradition going back to Jonathan Swift and all the way forward through Moliere and Wilde to Beckett and the great Rumanian playwright Ionesco. 

Every comedy needs a compelling character, one that can be followed throughout even the darkest of such tales, and Jude has provided a splendid one in Angela, an exhausted workaholic multi-tasking through a hectic day, whose attitude couldn’t be more bitter or cynical. While driving through the stop-and-start traffic in Bucharest, Angela lets out her anger towards Romania’s sexist society through her satirical social media creation, the cross-dressing video persona Bobita, who spews filthy language about women and the country’s ultra-conservative values. Interspersed with Bobita’s rants are Angela’s interviews with disabled people who are auditioning to appear in a safety video being produced by a rapacious Austrian company, who have been responsible for the kind of injuries that they’re now hypocritically trying to prevent. 

As if that wouldn’t offer enough of a plot, Jude has inserted scenes from a Communist-era Romanian melodrama about a female taxi driver’s love-life called Angela Goes On. While Do Not Expect Too Much is shot in black and white, the classic Eighties film is in colour, and often slowed down, offering an avant-garde take on the past. At the apartment of one of the impaired potential leads in the video, the two car driving Angelas meet. Playing the mother of a disabled worker is Dorina Lazar, a famous Romanian actress who was the lead in Angela Goes On. She and the present-day Angela, played rivetingly by Illinca Manolache, get along so well that it’s not surprising when Ovidiu, playing her badly damaged but still articulate son, wins the part in the safety video. 

Lazar isn’t the only celebrity to make an appearance in the film. Uwe Boll, the notorious horror, and video-game inspired director, who has threatened to beat up film critics who despise his films, happily participated in Do Not Expect Too Much, making a social media denunciation of the status quo with Angela. And, more germane to the plot, the great Nina Hoss plays the representative of the Austrian video producers, with the astonishing name of Doris Goethe. She claims to be a direct descendent of the great German writer and philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which is nonsense since his last heir died in the 19th century. But she’s brilliant as the casually indifferent top dog who is perfectly willing to engage in a philosophical—but ultimately inconsequential–dialogue with Angela, who picks her up from the airport at the end of her 18-hour day. Neither is hopeful for the future but only one, Ms. Goethe, will be able to drink at a hotel all night long.

The final 40 minutes of Do Not Expect Too Much is a brilliant piece that could be made into a stand-alone short feature. In it, Ovidiu, his wife, daughter and “Angela” mother shoot take after take of the safety video staged right in front of the factory lot, where his nearly fatal accident occurred. Ovidiu’s testimony is gradually altered in multiple scenes of mounting frustration and hilarity. At one point, it starts to rain and only one umbrella is found at first, leaving most of the family soaked. At another, the gate which got dislodged by an on-rushing car causing Ovidiu’s nearly fatal accident is removed from the shot because it looks old and rusty. Finally, Ovidiu is forced to hold large cards directly in front of the camera for the last take. Since the cards are blank, Ovidiu’s wife wants to know how they’re being used and is hardly mollified when she’s told that the cards will have words written on them digitally in post-production. Of course, the producers could write anything and given what’s happened throughout the film, one would hardly be astonished if the words would justify the factory, which is owned by the Austrians, and vilify Ovidiu. 

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World is hardly intended for a general audience. It is cold, cruel, and complex: qualities that you don’t see every day in modern cineplexes.  But for those who love satire and want to wrestle with what’s going on in the world, Radu Jude has made a truly worthy film. 


The Beast

Bertrand Bonello, director, and script, based on The Beast in the Jungle by Henry James

Starring: Léa Seydoux (Gabrielle), George MacKay (Louis), Guslagie Malanda (Poupée Kelly), Dasha Nekrasova (Dakota), Martin Scali (Georges), Xavier Dolan (A.I. voice)


Is it better to have loved and lost than not to love at all? That’s the question in Henry James’ brilliant novella The Beast in the Jungle, in which a young man refuses to commit himself to romance or, indeed, anything, because he has a presentiment that disaster is bound to strike him. It’s a tale that has a lot of resonance in these perilous times so it’s no surprise that French auteur Bertrand Bonello has taken the idea and made it is his own in The Beast.

Bonello’s inventive concept has turned James’ conceit into a science-fiction tale, with three stories involving the same two characters taking place in different times: 1910, 2014 and 2044. In all three, Gabrielle (Léa Seydoux), a beautiful, artistic and mysterious French woman, has an ambiguous relationship with a handsome, cool stranger named Louis (George MacKay). In all cases, disaster looms but so does the possibility of love. 

The problem with anthology pieces is that, almost inevitably, one is far better than the others. That’s the case here. Bonello’s historic story, set in Paris just before World War One, is deliciously romantic and truly Jamesian, though the story isn’t the same as the original Beast in the Jungle. Here, Gabrielle is a neurotic pianist whose wealthy husband Georges protects her while he indulges in his artistic practice, making odd but beautiful dolls. The enigmatic Louis may be in love with Gabrielle, but he is ever the gentleman, drawn to her by their mutual fear of foreboding doom. Gabrielle’s sensibility is most perfectly expressed by the composer she’s obsessed with, Schoenberg, whose brilliant and disturbing piece Transfigured Night is heard as she seems lost in a reverie. 

Bonello seems to have had the most fun in creating the 1910 scenes. At any rate, they’re fully realized in a way that the other time periods are not. Part of the enjoyment is seeing Mackay and Seydoux in period costume, speaking to each other seamlessly in English and French. They possess the sort of faces and body language that are timeless, and both seem completely at ease acting in scenes set a century ago. MacKay is casual and natural asking to examine and caress Seydoux’s hands, ostensibly because he wants to see what she plays on the piano, but, of course, it’s a romantic gesture that would hardly play today. Their courtship is beautifully observed as is their slow movement towards a dramatic denouement. What happens to them is perfectly poetic and fully in keeping with James’s potentially fatal phobia.  

The 2014 story is less effective. Set in California, Gabrielle is a lonely French model, housesitting a wealthy neo-Bauhaus home in the hills. While Seydoux’s contemporary back story makes sense, it was a bad idea to make Louis a potentially murderous incel, whose anger against women seems crazy coming from the attractive MacKay, especially as the audience has seen him as a solicitous gentleman in the 1910 section. To put it bluntly, MacKay isn’t convincing as a menacing character, who would threaten women, especially Seydoux’s Gabrielle. Bonello evokes Los Angeles as a dark, distant place, which it likely is, but the threats to Gabrielle—from a very mild earthquake and Louis’s innervating presence in the neighbourhood—hardly seem scary. In some ways, this section is reminiscent of Antonioni’s Zabriskie Point, which was also shot brilliantly but failed to offer any deep insights into L.A. in the Sixties. 

That leaves us with 2044, where Gabrielle is trying to find a job worthy of her skills in a time when Artificial Intelligence has removed most people from interesting employment. Louis seems to be suffering from the same problem, though he barely appears in this section. Here, the beast has become indifference, boredom and loss of human interaction and involvement. Bonello may well be right: that might be where we’re going. One wonders, is that what he’s really saying? Is he asking whether we should place humanity’s natural intelligence and willingness to work ahead of the successes of AI, which could possibly be a beast that could devour us?

The Beast is a problematic film. At least half of it—because the 1910 story takes up quite a bit of time—is absolutely wonderful. The rest is certainly interesting if not as persuasive. While Seydoux’s Gabrielle is given enough time to develop her character in each part of the film, MacKay is less effective in the modern and futuristic sections of the narrative. The Beast is a provocative piece of arthouse cinema, which will be debated on social media—do pubs still exist? —but won’t have the major impact it hoped to receive.



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