Awaiting Apocalypse at a Red Light: On Radu Jude’s “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World”

By Julia GunnisonApril 5, 2024

Awaiting Apocalypse at a Red Light: On Radu Jude’s “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World”
IN HIS 2023 FILM Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, Romanian director Radu Jude uses improvisation, but not with actors’ performances or lines. Rather, during the film’s many car scenes where protagonist Angela (Ilinca Manolache) drives around Bucharest, the actress and the crew didn’t follow a predetermined route. Once underway, Jude provided directions according to traffic and instinct. What emerges from this immersion in city streets is an ironic inverse of the archetypal road movie. In place of the sweeping vistas, wild adventures, and heroic individualism that brand the genre’s most iconic entries are stoplights, lane changes, aggressive drivers, near-accidents, and omnipresent congestion that slows traffic to a maddening crawl. Jude had no need to strategize in order to capture these conditions. The city spoke for itself.

In Do Not Expect, city space is Jude’s primary material. The director is an incisive observer of the urban environment, the ways people move through it, and the social relations it produces. Angela’s mandate to circle Bucharest by car stems from her job as a production assistant for a multinational corporation. Set over the course of one long day, Do Not Expect follows Angela’s efforts to cast workplace accident victims for a PSA-style safety video. The story’s first part is subtitled “a conversation with a 1981 film,” excerpting scenes from Lucian Bratu’s Angela Moves On (1981), another Bucharest-set film wherein taxi driver Angela (Dorina Lazăr) experiences the city through a string of encounters in her cab.

With its elastic structure, its cinematic citations, and its use of multiple distinct styles—grainy black-and-white film, TikTok videos, an extended silent montage, a 40-minute real-time finale—Do Not Expect feels less like a narrative movie than a series of playful experiments. When citing Bratu, Jude pivots from director to critic, conducting a close reading of the older film. In 1981, Bucharest was on the precipice of tremendous change: communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s urban-planning projects were beginning to alter the city, as was his radical austerity policy, designed to pay off Romania’s national debt. Bratu’s Angela lives in a world unrecognizable to Jude’s Angela, and Jude seizes on these differences to remark on the absurdity of where history has led us.

In Jude’s conception, there’s one experience that overwhelms contemporary city life: sitting in a car. More than 45 of Do Not Expect’s 163 minutes take place in Angela’s car. The audience looks on from the passenger seat as Angela journeys to interview potential subjects in different corners of Bucharest, slowly navigating the crowded streets. In Angela Moves On, the protagonist also drives for work. As a taxi driver, this work is inherently social, and the cab is a site of encounter. Though not all contact is pleasant, her cab connects her with the city, and much of the story progresses within its enclosed space.

In Do Not Expect, however, cars foster isolation. When Angela rolls up the window to shield herself from the hostility of other drivers, city sounds dim to a muffle and the car becomes a sealed-off cave. “Can you fall in love in traffic?” asks a radio host as Angela inches through a tunnel. Though Bratu arranges a meet-cute in his character’s taxi, this question posed on the airwaves in Do Not Expect is painfully ironic; no place could be as devoid of romance as Angela’s car, the hurried back-seat sex she has with her boyfriend notwithstanding. Stuck in the purgatory of Angela’s commute, the audience absorbs all its irritations: car horns, drowsiness, poor road conditions, and endless waiting. These scenes do little to propel the film’s story; in fact, they stall it. They delay our arrival at the next plot development, creating a kind of narrative congestion.


The 2022 INRIX traffic scorecard ranks Bucharest as the 19th most congested city in the world. That’s no surprise, given just how many vehicles are on the road. The cars parked head-to-toe that Jude shows us in the movie indicate the high number of vehicles per capita: among its 1.8 million population, Bucharest is home to 1.2 million cars. It wasn’t always this way. When Bratu’s Angela breezily zips around town in Angela Moves On, it’s a fair reflection of traffic conditions at the time. Car ownership in the 1980s was heavily regulated, and by the end of the decade, the city had only 100,000 cars. As austerity measures wreaked havoc on the economy, driving was rationed just like electricity, heat, and food; various restrictions prohibited use of private vehicles according to the day, time, or weather. Bratu disguised this context so as not to run afoul of government censors—but the city has a way of showing things for what they are.

In the background of a scene that Jude excerpts from Bratu’s film, a long line of people wait to board a bus. Slowing down and punching in on this detail, he presents evidence of an overburdened transit system, one that could not keep pace with public demand. Forty years and a revolution later, Bucharest faces a different version of the same problem. With Bucharest unable to accommodate the growing density of cars, Romanian drivers in the capital lose an estimated 91 hours per year to traffic.

The story of Do Not Expect was partly inspired by a car accident that killed a production assistant Jude knew; exhausted by his onerous work schedule, he fell asleep behind the wheel. Cars are not the only things to have proliferated across postrevolutionary Bucharest. Roadside crosses marking unexpected deaths, many of them traffic-related, spread through the city; 16 memorials were identified during the communist era compared to 290 between 2000 and 2018. Crosses represent a tradition that dates as far back as the 17th century. The communist state removed memorials and prohibited their erection, a policy most effectively enforced in urban areas. When constraints around the use of public space began to loosen in the 1990s, the practice returned.

In one of the most remarkable sequences of the film, Jude abruptly cuts off a conversation between Angela and Doris Goethe (Nina Hoss), an Austrian corporate executive, inserting a montage of crosses installed by the side of DN2, one of the most dangerous roads in Romania. Drivers using DN2’s emergency lane as a regular second lane have caused a disproportionate number of fatalities on the road. Alongside one 250-km stretch, there are 600 crosses, Angela explains to Goethe. Activist groups in Romania have advocated for a 2+1 redesign of DN2, a solution that would establish two lanes in each direction, plus a middle lane that alternates between southbound and northbound traffic. A central barrier would protect cars from collisions when the middle lane switches directions. Until such a plan is adopted, crosses may continue to appear on DN2, serving as interventions in public space that channel anger and grief over infrastructure failings. Jude’s montage sequence functions as part memorial, part protest. It elegantly bears the emotional weight of so many lives lost while jolting the audience with a surprise irruption of the documentary into the fictional.

Road safety activists from the advocacy group Asociatia Pro Infrastructura question the state’s priority: is it “the speed of the powerful or the safety of the many?” Beyond the country’s trunk roads, speed for the powerful seems to motivate all aspects of society as time becomes increasingly commoditized. Economic exchange is now so instantaneous that it devolves into invisible automatic impulses. “You blinked, you paid!” recalls Angela with a shudder. Beginning at 6:00 a.m., Angela’s day is intensely timed out, her boss on the phone repeatedly pressuring her to hasten. She falls over herself with apologies to Goethe, whom she meets at the airport just a few minutes late.

“It’s later than you think.” So reads a wall sign Jude cuts to during the movie. Hanging above the sign is a clock with no hands—but we don’t need them. The tardiness in question cannot be measured in minutes or hours; it’s bigger than a production assistant running behind schedule. Rather, Jude is concerned with an existential lateness, the kind of “late” that qualifies the advanced stage of capitalism that runs the world. Civilization hurtles forward at a pace inconceivable to the individual, confined to the scale of everyday life. Jude’s camera and characters point out the strangeness of the world around them: forests burning, robots performing surgery, employers forbidding injured workers’ treatment. Confusion leaves us burnt out and weary.

“I feel very old,” says Angela near the end of her workday. The world’s acceleration has an aging effect. Our socioeconomic systems, caught in a firestorm of baffling complexity, leave us perennially behind and out of time.

Through Angela’s car window, the architecture of Bucharest reflects another kind of temporal chaos. In many ways, the city remains the product of Ceaușescu’s vision. The most bombastic expression of his legacy is Romania’s parliament building, known as the People’s Palace. One of the largest and heaviest buildings in the world, it dominates Bucharest’s city center at a more-than-human scale. Approaching it as she drives up Bulevardul Unirii, Angela informs Goethe of the displacements necessary to build the gigantic showpiece. Around 40,000 residents were removed, their homes demolished to make way for the building and surrounding complex. Elsewhere in the movie, ghosts of the communist era persist. An imposing power plant recalls Ceaueșescu’s aggressive industrialization projects, while a bunker suggests Cold War anxieties about nuclear attacks.

At the same time, capitalist architecture—skyscrapers, billboards, private parking—is everywhere, and a jumbled aesthetic emerges from the collision of these two competing systems. Within this hybrid landscape, displacement continues. Part of the story concerns a company in the process of exhuming bodies from a cemetery, one of Angela’s grandparents among them. The company seized the burial grounds for their own expansion, hoping that enlisting “elite priests” to consecrate a new resting place will assuage disgruntled families. Here, manipulation of urban space once again signals too much consolidated power.


As Angela travels through Bucharest, a pattern emerges. Eyes follow her as she crosses a parking lot; a restaurant host touches her arm; an executive calls her “cute” during a contentious meeting; a driver in the next lane berates her with misogynist obscenities. Jude scatters these moments throughout the movie as a consistent reminder of how patriarchy infiltrates women’s experience of the city. Centuries ago, when the street was the primary site of social and commercial life in Europe, feminized bodies were the subject of speculation and fascination. People obsessed over whether any woman they encountered was a prostitute—or, as they were known euphemistically, “public women.”

To be a feminized person in public today is not so different. Objectification of women is embedded in the city’s visual language. A salon near Angela’s apartment features a larger-than-life cartoon woman’s exaggerated cleavage. Later, Angela laughs at a medical center’s giant billboard displaying a bare pregnant belly. Some of the sexist incidents the film portrays are more pronounced than others; when a man working in the cemetery looks up Angela’s dress, the moment passes so quickly that you might miss it. So customary are these infringements that they easily integrate with the fabric of city life.

But Angela finds ways to subvert these power dynamics. Within the intense pressure of her workday, Angela steals time to record videos for her social media following. In these videos, she uses a masculine filter to embody an original character named Bobiţă, an Andrew Tate–esque figure who spews misogynist commentary, recounting lewd anecdotes from his excessive, materialist lifestyle. Bobiţă is Manolache’s real-life creation, and his stories are so outrageous as to be hilarious; as Angela describes it, “I criticize by way of extreme caricature.” Her satirical strategy is obvious, but perhaps Angela also finds relief behind enemy lines, temporarily inhabiting the role of the oppressor.

Through her creative act, she steps outside her socialized identity, casting off the limitations that come with it. City women like Angela are conditioned to anticipate danger: she worries about “shady guys” hanging out near her car, while in Angela Moves On, the heroine glances at a wrench in her console during a conversation with a customer. While the city presents all kinds of triggers for fear and apprehension, Angela as Bobiţă navigates the digital realm free of these burdens.

After recording a video at Morii Lake, where Bobiţă discusses an impending resort development, Angela’s boyfriend praises her approach: “You should do more location stories.” On the exhilarating creative possibilities of place, he and Jude are in agreement. In the tall office building where Angela meets with the company responsible for exhuming her family’s gravesite, an executive walks through their plan using a city model, a cluster of miniature buildings laid out on a conference room table. Perhaps concocting so cruel and absurd an undertaking as digging up human remains for money is easier when your reference point is an imitation city. The model renders the city as a toy, obscuring the project’s real-world impact.

But Jude insists on capturing Bucharest at eye level, encountering streets, cars, sidewalks, and buildings as a citizen does. In his cinematic interpretation, the city embodies more than a stage for narrative action, becoming instead a deep, expansive record of how things were and are.

LARB Contributor

Julia Gunnison is a writer who lives in New York. She is the co-editor of Syllabus, a weekly publication for nontraditional syllabi.


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