Following his Golden Bear winner Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, Romanian writer-director Radu Jude wowed critics again with the satire Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival earlier this year and won the Special Jury Prize. Wild, hilarious and cryptically profound, it’s a beautiful oddity that solidifies Jude’s name as one of the most creative and bracingly contemporary filmmakers working today. 

At the recently concluded Filmfest Hamburg, we had the chance to speak with him about the creation of images, the merits of Tiktok and judging films with Kristen Stewart. 

The Film Stage: This is a pretty remarkable film. When you finished it, did you have the feeling that you’d done something special?

Radu Jude: I didn’t know. There are things in the film that I haven’t done before or I haven’t seen done before, so I didn’t have references to compare it to and was not sure if it will work. That’s what’s exciting and also what’s confusing about it. For instance: when you divide a film into two parts like this, usually there’s a balance between the two. But here we have one part that’s two hours long and the other around 40 minutes. I kept asking myself: Can this work?   

The film has a unique structure that involves a dialogue between two films––your own and an existing Romanian film from 1981. How was the screenplay developed?  

An idea like that didn’t come all at once. It happened in stages.   

But you knew it was going to be built around two films?  

No, that came later. My initial idea involves only the second part of the film. Those stories about workplace accidents are real stories I encountered. I have worked as a director for corporate safety videos so I knew about these cases; I couldn’t have invented scenarios like those. 

On the other hand, I started my career in film at the bottom doing all the odd jobs––including a lot of driving. One day I learned that someone I knew had died after an extremely long work day. When he complained to the company about exhaustion, they just told him to drink another Red Bull. He died very young. So at some point I decided to make a film about this story and to incorporate the second part in some way. But that didn’t work so I dropped the whole thing. Until the idea came to me to use the 1981 movie. I remembered the film The Limey directed by Steven Soderbergh, which used fragments of Ken Loach’s Poor Cow in a flashback. That made me think my film could work this way. So, you see, we kept adding things at different stages of the script development.   

For a while I was convinced you shot the old film too, using whatever movie magic. 

That’s understandable because we live in a new age of image creation where you cannot trust anything you see. Even when something is presented as a historical document, the audience doesn’t necessarily trust it.   

For over two hours we follow the main character around on a work day that seems to stretch into infinity. Was it a conscious decision to play with our sense of time?   

Yes, of course it’s a conscious decision, and it was one of the challenges of the film. Time is the crucial element in the sense that I want to show this is someone who works 15- or 16-hour days every day like in a loop. How do you communicate this weight of time onscreen? There are complaints that the film is too long, so I’m still not sure if I did it right. The challenge is also the dramaturgy, as I want to incorporate elements in a day that are exemplary of the story while also wanting the film to breathe a little. There are scenes I shot and took out or couldn’t even shoot. For example: I wanted to shoot a scene where the character goes to play slot machines. Those machines and gambling in general are a huge phenomenon in Romania. Many people are addicted. I wanted to show that through the character but the people who run those businesses wouldn’t allow it.          

TikTok videos are heavily featured in the film. As an established filmmaker, do you see the appeal of short-form video content? 

I’m interested in everything that’s connected to the creation and consumption of images. In that sense I see TikTok videos as a form of cinema. Maybe in a primitive form, but I like primitive cinema anyway. If you like Griffith, the Lumière brothers or Stroheim, why wouldn’t you like TikTok artists? Of course, now we know platforms––like TikTok, YouTube, or Instagram––are not so innocent, that they can spy on you or take your data. But apart from that, they’re just new ways to create images. They are there whether you like them or not, so better take them seriously and try to see their potential. 

Generally speaking, I think the fact that every person can now make videos on their phone is a great thing and it feels like the start of something new. Sometimes I find things on TikTok that are actually better than films being made these days. The platform is gathering people and ideas from everywhere on a scale that’s difficult to achieve in cinema. It also gives room to people and themes that are not represented in European cinema at least.       

At around the two-hour mark, the film cuts to a prolonged montage of crosses put up on roadsides to commemorate those who died in traffic accidents. Are you sending a message with the montage, or just temporarily breaking up the narrative flow?   

I think to call it “a message” is too strong. It’s there not just to break up the narrative but in an old-fashioned sense. It’s like a primitive documentary––just images and no sound. Like I said: I’m interested in the primitive form of anything. At the same time, it serves as proof. Proof of Romania’s problems: the carelessness of the politics, the anarchy on the roads. I wanted to provide some proof of that.    

The film features very subjective images (like the TikToks), very objective images (like the montage). It also features distinctly old and new images. What’s the intention behind subjecting the viewer to such a variety of images?  

The film is constructed by the logic of a collage or montage, so I think it’s fitting for the project to incorporate different textures and types of images. I strongly believe that in the kingdom of cinema, all kinds of images should have their place.     

Nina Hoss is an incredible actress best known for her dramatic work. What made you cast her in a role that has such comedic undertones? 

The idea came from my discussions with my producer, Ada Solomon. When we contacted Nina, she was very open to do it even though it’s not a big part. She was very generous, professional, and indulged us 100%. It was a very smooth collaboration.            

The ending of the film, while also funny, struck me as quite chilling. It feels comical, ridiculous, and a little sinister. Is that how we should understand the film’s title?   

That’s an interpretation I can agree with. When I’m asked this type of question, I tend to step back a little because I think there are many ways to interpret the film or its title. The scene with the crosses, for example: people have different reactions to it and I think they’re all valid. 

What do you think is the state of Romanian cinema today? 

I haven’t seen everything out there, but I’d say one thing I’m missing is cinema that’s more daring. While I appreciate and admire many Romanian filmmakers, there’s something I’d like to see more of as a viewer, which is films that are a little more radical. A random example that popped into my head is Ken Jacobs’ Star Spangled to Death, a seven-hour found-footage film. Things like that. There are young filmmakers who are very good and interesting, so let’s see.     

Romanian films won the Golden Bear in Berlin three times in the last ten years, which is quite impressive!

True, but despite the prestige of these awards, they’re not the only indicator of a film’s importance. Ken Jacobs never won a Golden Bear but he’s a hugely important filmmaker––more so than the three of us who did, in my opinion.   

Having been to many film festivals, have you noticed any change in the festival landscape through the years? I understand you recently co-signed the open letter protesting the discontinuation of Carlo Chatrian as artistic director of the Berlinale. 

I think, some exceptions notwithstanding, there’s been a tendency to commercialize film festivals. To create sections for more daring films that feel like ghettos. I’m not saying this is the end of the world, but if us filmmakers and cinephiles prefer festivals to be done differently, then we just have to fight for it. And if there’s one thing I’d try to fight for, it’s for festivals to program more radical, challenging, and less-commercial films.    

You served on the Berlinale jury this year. How was the experience?

It was a great experience, beyond my expectations. I liked my fellow jurors. I liked [jury president] Kristen Stewart. 

People don’t necessarily picture you two hanging out together. How did you get along?

Very well. She’s not just a great actress but a very curious person, always interested to explore. I consider her a colleague.

Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World screened at Filmfest Hamburg and will be released by MUBI.

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