Monthly Archives: March 2024

  • Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World   Radu Jude (ROM; 2023)

    Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World   Radu Jude (ROM; 2023) Ilinka Manolache

    Viewed Film Forum NYC 18th March 2024; ticket $14

    one fast lady

    In the opening sequence of Jude’s ‘Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World…’ (DNETM) we see protagonist Angela awakened by her alarm, getting up, walking out of frame to visit the toilet returning naked into frame and getting dressed. We see a core and quintessentially human aspect of life represented in her slow movements out of sleep, out of her nakedness into her clothes. These few moments at the start of Angela’s day are simply a prelude to her entrapment in a life as a slave of turbocharged capitalism subject to the accelerating forces of economic materialism.

    Jude is using film to expose in particular the squalor of existence in contemporary Romania, but in general laying bare the ugly reality of life and work in the 21st century global economy dominated by a small number of huge companies. But like Godard, Jude makes films to have fun, unconstrained by the ridiculous production demands of story spectacle and spookies. He just has something to say. Jude’s DNETM is scripted from a particular political space, a space of joyously seeing through the bullshit lies and hypocrisy characteristic of this society.

    Jude’s film unequivocally depicts life in post communist Romania where the diktat of Capitalism shapes people’s daily experiences penetrating their psychic responses to society and the world around them; the substitution of the hammer and sickle by Coca Cola et al, the sudden destabilising collapse of Romanian notional ‘collective’ ownership and its replacement by ‘Corporate’ entities.

    Life mutilation death – everything’s a racket.

    DNETM has a structure that in writing is complex to describe. But film’s strength as a medium is the possibility of using its resources: juxtaposition, insertion, superimposition, split image and track, montage, text etc. to create the transmission of homogenous communication, to suggest linkage and understanding by simple manipulation of these inputs. DNETM’s structure intercuts the main story of Angela’s day (shot in black and white, with a look suggestive of a comic strip) in which she is working on a ‘safety at work video’ being made by a Bucharest film production company; with a 1981 Romanian movie (shot in soft colour suggesting a feminine aura) about a woman taxi driver (also called Angela); and with protagonist Angela’s ‘TikTok’ alter ego as misogynist Andrew Tate. These sections are further intercut with Jude’s own collection of quotes and a montage comprising the memorial crosses of some of the hundreds killed in car crashes on one specific road in Romania.  

    Before thinking about Jude’s use of the parallel stories of the two Angelas, it’s interesting to look at the contrast between his scripting of Katia in ‘Bad Luck Banging’ and Angela’s scenario in DNETM. In ‘Bad Luck..’ Katia walks through Bucharest. She walks, one foot in front of another. Her walk is permeated by her anxiety and interspersed with taking and making mobile calls. It’s not an easy walk because she has been summoned to attend the school where she teaches to explain her behaviour. But it’s a walk for all that; the pace is human and the life in the city is seen and experienced, allowing her to interact with the streets and the people. Cut to DNETM. No one walks. Life has accelerated. Angela drives. Everyone drives. The car has become a crucible in which the drivers are subjected to concentrated alchemical forces that transform them into human ‘gold’ for their masters. The roads and highways Angela navigates become vectors of intensity in which passage is characterised by the alternation of juddering advance and ferocious acceleration. Driving is dehumanised. It’s a Hobbesian war of all against all, a parody of Capitalism itself.   To drive is an endless battle with the road other vehicles other drivers the weather and fatigue; for Angela it’s punctuated by the casual vicious sexist snarls spat at her out by male drivers as they pull up alongside her in the traffic.

    The other distinct difference between the experience of Jude’s two female leads, Katia and Angela, is that throughout Bad Luck Banging, Katia is engaged in a constant dialogue/debate about her behaviour and how she should be seen and judged. For Angela there’s no debate. She may rebel against it in internalised violent self hating, but her position of one of complete menial subservience, she exists to either obey or engage in demeaning but self aware protective self censorship. Angela retains an essential humanity despite having the shit kicked out of her, but it’s difficult to see how she can avoid slipping down into the black hole of Bucharest’s engained sexism and its drug of self induced nihilistic indifference.

    Back to cars for a moment. Except for Jude’s long last shot, in the main part of the film the force field of the automobile dominates Jude’s black and white visuals. DNETM is a sort of road movie. Road movies in the American tradition usually have something to do with ego, with a testing of the absolute limits of self as an experiential subject. Predictably US road films usually end with death, as the protagonists run out of road and there is no where left for ego to go. In contrast Iranian road movies are characterised as extensions of the self, the automobile used as a device for reaching out to and finding others, an expanding of the boundaries of ego. Jude’s movie is the antithesis of this.  Fuelled by demented Capitalism drivers are trapped in a self referential nightmare where they experience the phantoms and spectres of their own distorted anxiety and terror.  

    The intercutting by Jude of an 1981 Romanian movie about a woman taxi driver gives the contrast. Jude is no apologist for Ceausescu’s regime, its oppression and its gratuitous acts of destruction, but in this period Romania had not moved into the stage of late capitalist acceleration. The car had not become a trap. In this section for its female driver Angela, her car, the taxi, is simply a means to make a living. She is subjected to casual male sexism, but the sexist comments aren’t screamed obscenities. They are more suggestive and in a form that can at least broker dialogue. The pace of the human interactions, of the movement of the taxi about the city, are shot in mellow colour signifying a gentler more forgiving emotional and physical environment than the present day black and white comic strip. The language in the 1981 movie is mediated by observation and dialogue; in the main section of DNETM language is mostly reduced to manipulation or particularly in the TikTok alter ago section, to expressive destructive misogynist violence.

    My feeling is that Jude overloads his film, there is too much content, content that is overly repetitive and in repetition loses cogency. His constant stream of ‘quotes’ sometimes indicate a desire to show off his cleverness. But these are personal judgements. It may be that this excess of content is related to Jude’s intention to subject his audience to an ‘experience’ in the film itself. This is exemplified in the long last shot of some perhaps 25 minute duration (?), in which a man in a wheelchair accompanied by his family, is filmed recounting his industrial injury for the work safety video. Of course as the subject and his family are put through the mill, we see that the filming is a dishonest manipulative fraudulent exercise. The man in the wheelchair is a poor innocent sap ripe for exploitation. So during this section, which is rather scrappily played out, the audience is subjected to a similar long enervating experience to that of the group being filmed.

    Like it or not we get to understand something of what it is like to be screwed in Romania today.

    adrin neatrour

















  • Perfect Days     Wim Wenders (2023; Ger/Jap)

    Perfect Days     Wim Wenders (2023; Ger/Jap)  Koji Yakusho

    viewed Tyneside Cinema Newcastle 27 Feb 2024; Ticket £11.75

     No pun intended

    To begin at the ending. Third shot from the end of ‘Perfect Days’ is a long close up of protagonist Hirayama’s face seen through the reflecting images on the windscreen of his little cleaning van as he drives through Tokyo.  In the shot his face goes through a number of different acted out contortions as if wanting to express in this one take a condensed accelerated series of facial images representing the spectrum of both the emotions and aging.  The shot is overlaid with Nina Simone singing ‘Feeling Good’ recorded in 1965, the last of the classic 60’s and 70’s tracks featured throughout the film. The Simone song, like the other tracks represent Wenders’ abandonment of exposition for the sake of exploitation, music used as a direct line into the vein of the audience experience to manipulate their experience of the film, and ‘Feel Good.’  Feel Good just like Wenders.  

    Wenders’ decision to make ‘Perfect Days’ seems closely related to his well known admiration for Japanese film maker Ozu about whom he made a circumspect documentary in 1985.  Ozu’s films are what could be called quiet propositions.  The scenarios mostly comprise long takes in which we see the action from a particular position.  Ozu’s narratives, such as  in Tokyo Story, whilst they have dynamic traction seem less central to the films than their structure and the ordering of the shifting and instable social relations that underlie the scripts.  Ozu’s particular way of shooting his films use the seen to reveal the unseen, what is seen by the camera points to the unseen, the emotional substrate underlying the surface of life.  There is no manipulation, no judgement, no direct representation of meaning, simply exposition. A series of shots that ask the audience to move beyond the presenting lucidity of the image.

    Wenders’ opening focuses on his central character Hirayama and the round of actions and activities that comprise the way that he lives.  His getting up in the morning routine, starting his little van and setting out for his work as an itinerant cleaner of public lavatories.  Nodding in Ozu’s direction  ‘Perfect Days’ through Hirayama’s daily round shows something both of contemporary urban Tokyo and the way people live in this city; the small dramatic subplot involving Hirayama’s runaway niece opens up something about his past his character and the forces that might underlie his choice of a particular way of life. 

    But as the film develops its momentum the weight of the material shifts from the dilation of the richness in the detail of the everyday to the contraction of the film into emotional impoverishment, the reduction of the material to a sentimental nostalgia.  In the opening section of the film when Hirayama sets off to work he puts one of his tapes into the van’s cassette deck which blasts out the 60’s hit by the Animals ‘ The House of the Rising Sun.’  As his film progresses Wenders increasingly features Hirayama playing his music, almost exclusively the sort of British and American tracks that are redolent and characteristic of a certain spirit of the 1960s’ – Brown Eyed Girl, Dock of the Bay, Sunny Afternoon and of course Perfect Day.

    As the music plays it has an increasingly dominating effect that exerts emotive control over ‘Perfect Days’.  The music becomes overwhelming.  It is as if Wenders’ intention is to pitch us back into a mythic era when the sun shone on the top ten hits and the voices carried a message of hope.  A golden time that of course that never was but in which we might like to lose ourselves if we accept to drink from the director’s golden but addled chalice.  As one character comments: “Why can’t things just stay the same…?”   As a line from Wenders’ script it isn’t just  nostalgia that takes over and dominates the scenario, it is in particular, Wenders’ nostalgia. 

    In some respects ‘Perfect Days’ is a shadowy film.  Interpolated throughout the film are self contained sequences depicting the purely optical: fusions of the reflection and refraction of shadow: the play of light and darkness.  These sequences may depict Hirayama’s vision but in themselves are a core element of the Japanese aesthetic, the transient and the natural.  But as discrete clips detached from the natural world these shadow sequences lose their aesthetic validity, the essential imminence of the world.  They are not seen; they are viewed.  Perhaps one ‘shadow sequence’ might have had a particular strong effect.  Repeated a number of times throughout the film they become devices to represent an idea to Western audiences, a shadow of the actual.  And there is another shadow that interpenetrates the film: the shadow of Wenders.

    What seems to be happening in ‘Perfect Days’ is that Wenders (perhaps in a perfect daze)  has surreptitiously inserted himself as the main character in the film.  As the film develops scene by scene Wenders substitutes himself for Hirayama until in that final shot with Nina Simone singing ‘Feeling Good’ there is no Hirayama left only his outer form.  Hirayama’s essence has been sucked out completely devoured by the shadow of Wenders who so disguised proceeds to regale and seduce us with his yearnings for simpler times. ‘Perfect Days’ becomes by default a psychic vampire movie.

    adrin neatrour