Radu Jude Brings TikTok’s Chaos to the Movies

Radu Jude Brings TikTok’s Chaos to the Movies

Halfway through a recent Zoom interview with Radu Jude, the acclaimed Romanian director of “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World,” he offered a glimpse into his creative process. He pulled out one of the books he’s reading, an illustrated tome about commedia dell’arte. Then he shared his screen to reveal a collection of texts and images — Van Gogh still lifes, Giacometti sculptures, Japanese haikus — saved in folders on his computer. Jude stopped scrolling at a picture he took of a sign posted on an apartment building entrance.

“It says ‘Please have oral sex so as not to disturb the other tenants,’” Jude explained, translating from the Romanian with a grin on his face.

The autodidact Jude is not above a dirty joke. His work melds tragedy and farce, drawing promiscuously from art, literature, street ads and social media to fuel his brazen visions of Romanian history and contemporary life.

Jude’s previous film, the Golden Bear-winner “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” starts out with the making of a humorously sloppy sex tape and concludes with a witch trial against one of the tape’s participants. His latest, “Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World,” arrives in U.S. theaters on Friday.

The black comedy follows Angela (Ilinca Manolache), a film production assistant who spends most of her 16-hour workdays in her car, shuttling clients and equipment around Bucharest, Romania’s capital. One of Angela’s gigs entails interviewing former factory employees who were injured on the clock for a chance to feature in a corporate safety video. Scenes from the present-day, shot in black-and-white, are interwoven with colorful clips of another woman named Angela: a taxi driver in the 1980s also chained to a thankless job that involves navigating the streets of Bucharest.

Jude, 46, was born and raised in Bucharest, and lived through the communist dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. After graduating from film school, he cut his teeth in the Romanian film industry in the early 2000s directing commercials and corporate films. Exploitation on these sets was rife, Jude recalled.

“Romania was a haven for international productions from all over the world because of the cheap locations and labor,” he said: Working preposterously long hours was expected. “At the time, I thought it was romantic and part of the mythology of cinema,” Jude added. “Then I remember hearing about one guy who was pushed to work without sleep: ‘Just one more coke, one more red bull.’” The man eventually died in a car crash.

Manolache said that Jude instructed her to watch Andy Warhol movies and performances by Nico of “The Velvet Underground” to infuse her gig-economy workhorse with a punk energy. The character’s sequined dress and constant bubble-gum-chewing help give off this rogue vibe, but her outlaw behavior comes through most powerfully when she’s playing Bobita, an online alter-ego that Manolache created independently of the film, but who appears in frenzied outbursts throughout it.

Bobita is summoned when Angela posts videos of herself with a filter that resembles Andrew Tate, the online personality currently facing extradition from Romania on sex crime charges, and performs vulgar monologues that play like mockeries of the influencer’s misogynist speeches. Manolache said she hadn’t heard of Tate when she first debuted the Bobita persona on social media in 2021, and that she was actually inspired by Miranda July’s Instagram performances and her own frustrations with Romania’s culture of toxic masculinity. Though some of her family members and colleagues were dismissive of Bobita, Manolache said, Jude was a fan of her sordid satire, and invited her to lead his new film.

“Most big artists, they don’t see what’s valuable about TikTok,” Manolache said. “They reject it and call it a weird subculture. That’s what’s rare about Radu and what makes him such a modern voice.”

During the Zoom, Jude whipped out his phone and presented his TikTok feed to the camera. It showed an older woman performing a workout routine, then a hen that had reportedly survived a dog attack. “They have a certain beauty,” he said. “Here you can see people and places you don’t typically find in Romanian cinema. Why aren’t they in the movies? I often feel that cinema is behind TikTok. It’s not familiar with these expressions of life.”

For much of his career, beginning with his 2009 feature debut, “The Happiest Girl in the World” — about a provincial teenager who is forced to take part in a soda commercial — Jude was considered part of the “Romanian New Wave” of filmmakers united by their social-realist perspectives and working-class subjects. Though several Romanian New Wave directors (like Cristian Mungiu and Cristi Puiu) emerged as film festival heavyweights in the mid-’00s, Jude only gained international recognition in 2015, when he won a prize at the Berlin Film Festival for his 19th-century picaresque, “Aferim!”

Dorota Lech, a programmer for Central and East European cinema at the Toronto Film Festival, said that the label of “New Wave” had become passé. Jude’s constant reinvention, she added, makes him too dynamic a filmmaker to fit in one box, anyway. “He’s a true artist in a sea of paint-by-number content creators,” Lech said by email. He “can be crude,” she added, “but he can also go toe-to-toe with anyone on any subject.”

Some critics have drawn parallels between Jude and the French auteur Jean-Luc Godard — another fiercely political artist who played with the tools of new media — but Jude was bashful about the comparison.

He conceded that, like Godard, he tired to “discover the beauty in all kinds of images” (though he noted that Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and John Dos Passos did that, too) and added that he plans to shoot his next film on an iPhone precisely because the format is considered uglier.

“When you read a history book you only ever retain a few traces or details. That’s how cinema works. All of a sudden, details jump out and become cinematic. An Instagram page can be cinematic. A reflection in a puddle. You need to force cinema in new directions, make it impure and mess it up in order to be able to see these small details.”

“I just draw attention to what’s there,” he said. “Maybe that means I’m not a serious filmmaker.”

In fact, several of Jude’s films — like his next feature, a Dracula adaptation — began as jokes. “I was pitching a new project to some producers and they weren’t excited. Then I told one of them, ‘Well, I’m from Transylvania, so I also have a Dracula project,’ which I didn’t. Suddenly, he was very interested.” Then — unsurprisingly, considering Jude’s freewheeling, improvisatory spirit — he figured: “Why not?”

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