Thoughts on Music from „Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World”

9 November, 2023

“Someone compared the film to a mixed kebab. The intention was slightly ironic, but it’s accurate because the film contains many things, many genres, a multitude of stories, anecdotes, quotes – all immersed in a comedy sauce” – Radu Jude

Probably the biggest mistake one can make when discussing the music in Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much of the End of the World (2023) is to assume that the soundtrack was placed there with some symbolic intent. I don’t think that’s the case. As Veronica Lazăr and Andrei Gorzo state in their monograph on Jude’s films (published by ULBS – Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu), “there is no use of expressive music” in the New Romanian Cinema. I believe this holds true for Jude as well, even though he uses reality in a different way than the realism of New Romanian Cinema. The film seems to aim to gather, in a sampled way, all the music from the contemporary radio scene and from almost all alternative media. The pretext of the film’s main plot allows for that – a young woman drives around Bucharest (so the car radio becomes the main source for the soundtrack) seeking to handle various commissions for a company producing a corporate propaganda film disguised as a safety-at-work video – hence the label of “the most relentless cinematic attack on capitalism in the history of Romanian cinema” recently given by Lazăr and Gorzo. The music in the film is largely the music Angela Răducanu (from now on, Angela #2) listens to in her car. As the film also includes fragments from Lucian Bratu’s Angela Goes On (1982), it also features music from this classic title, where the soundtrack is post-produced to set the atmosphere for the adventures of taxi driver Angela #1. And yet, it doesn’t mean that a certain order, a certain functional regime of the music in this film about work and alienation cannot be decoded.

The first question I would like to ask here is, “When does the music in a movie begin?”. And, of course, the first answer would be, “when the first track is heard”. In Titanic, it appears right from the beginning and accompanies the entire film, climaxing at the end and playing throughout the credits. In Haneke’s The White Ribbon, it only appears when sung in church, in an almost Dogma 95 exercise to remove soundtrack from the film’s composition – not that they’re the first to do so, but certainly, the ones who’ve embraced it the most in recent history.

If for Von Trier and Vinterberg, this was part of a program to restore the importance of the director and the film crew in the face of the challenges posed by blockbusters, reminding, as Angelos Koutsourakis observed a decade ago, of “Brechtian specters” in motion, for Haneke, it came more as an intra-cinematic statement: the film’s topic is too heavy to allow for music. By the way, it was also Koutsourakis who, discussing Brecht in relation to Dogma 95, raised an extremely important question: Are Brecht and realism necessarily antithetical? That is, is the decision of a director to break the convention of depicting reality in conflict with realism?

In the case of Jude, this debate must be carried out both in relation to his methods of evading reality and his methods of entering its rawest dimension – that is, both metacommentary, irony so thick that it’s clearly a parody of the text, music, added voices, and so on, and the use of the most mundane devices and spectrums of capturing reality – from repurposed communist films to TikTok clips and commercials. So, discussing the music in his films must take into account these three observations: 1. Jude does not put anything randomly in his films, although he has no intention of placing anything specific in them; 2. in Jude’s cinema, reality must be more real than in any realist exercise; 3. almost never is a means by which Jude constructs a film (plot, characters, music, etc.) left there without being dialectically questioned – directly or indirectly.

The first track in the film is so familiar to any viewer that it almost goes unnoticed. It’s the iPhone alarm tone in the opening scene, which probably much of the audience wakes up to every morning. So the first step in Jude’s film is to use music as a form of hyper-familiarization with the environment. From the beginning, you are in the most common landscape possible. The first line in the film, that long “mooootherfucker” muttered by the protagonist (played by Ilinca Manolache), is also a form of hyper-familiarization. Swearing is employed not because swearing is shocking, but because it’s so common: alone, woken up from her sleep, Angela #2 utters a curse that is, in parody, the Proustian awakening from In Search of Lost Time. If falling asleep and waking up prompts tens of pages of self-examination in Proust’s texts, in Jude’s film, a “motherfucker” is enough. Like in a famous stand-up comedy sketch by Teo, a vulgar expression covers a thousand possible meanings. Somehow this counterpoint (or, perhaps, my preconception in interpretation) is confirmed by the presence on the nightstand of the second volume of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. And even that is a form of hyper-familiarization because the book is perhaps the most famous unread book of the 20th century. Proust is familiar, though distant, though probably unread. And the alarm tone is common, and the curse is common, and the book is the most common book possible. Jude’s formal device should be understood from the beginning: the combination is eccentric precisely because the elements are hyper-familiar, and all together seem so distant precisely because they resemble so much the closest reality. But the sounds also work by canceling each other out: the most bourgeois alarm (at least aspirationally, as it is an iPhone) is deconstructed by the most ordinary swearing, and that is deconstructed by Proust’s book. And vice versa. The scene continues with a “fuck me”, announcing the register of the entire film, and then with the character going to the bathroom, where we only hear what’s happening there over the static shot of the empty bed. On the way back, a few dogs can be heard barking outside and a whispered “fucking shit” from Angela lying on the bed. Next is the sound of the city in the morning – an extremely unsettling quiet, pierced only by the noises of passing cars and barking dogs, heralding the chaotic post-Fordist desert of the entire film.

So the first track in the film is, in fact, the opening credits from Angela Goes On, marking the first intercut with footage from the classic. The music is signed by Marius Țeicu (by the way, the composer has an awesome website), who mentored singers such as Angela Similea, Dida Drăgan, and Mirabela Dauer, and was a jury member at The Golden Stag and Mamaia festivals since the communist era. The moment sets up a clear separation: the communist world, which rationalizes, contrasting the world of peripheral capitalism, which derationalizes. The settled and aestheticized world of industrial socialism facing off against the chaotic and moving world of deindustrialized capitalism. The old world and the new world, face to face through their music as well.

What’s interesting here, however, is the directorial and editing decision. After playing a pop-rock instrumental piece featuring flute and synth from the ’70s-’80s, the film runs for a few seconds at low speed, as if slowing down for something specific, showing Angela #1 in the car. The melody is altered as the playback speed of the excerpt slows down, as if re-entering the contemporary setting should go through a process of accommodation. That produces a slowed and reverb effect, which seems to speak of a paradoxical situation: the era of speed needs a brake put on the atmosphere of communism, generally seen as slow and dull. The cheerful communist song thus becomes a kind of depressed and mysterious vaporwave, overlaid on the colorful shots of communist Bucharest and its utopia.

Next is the first scene featuring Angela #2 as her online alter ego, Bobiță (using an Andrew Tate filter for the TikTok clip), followed by a jump (a leitmotif in the film) to a scene of the car driving aimlessly, which is the typical setting for the film’s soundtrack, where Jude works the most with the music. It seems taken from the Dogma ethos, as the film sound is always part of the reality in the film. Opening the playlist is a rock song with Beerfest vibes (Basm epic – i.e. Epic Tale – by Zob, also featuring licentious lyrics, part of Jude’s general statement of “rise below vulgarity” – which he released on Facebook when he wrote a post about Teambuilding) that seems to work as a caffeine substitute: the kind of morning song played on RockFM to keep you awake when your body tries to go back to sleep. One can understand from the start the hazard in which Jude places his music: being dialectically obsessed with reality, the realistic selection must be as little programmatic as possible. And I turn to an observation made by Bogdan Popa in Revista Transilvania: “a dialectical image is a way of recapturing a revolutionary moment that reinscribes the past into the future”. Therefore, by not being programmatic in its use of music, the film is more real than realism itself.

In the gas station scene, when Angela #2 talks about the mass shootings in the US over a piece of classical music, the cashier recites two verses from Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Il pianto della scavatrice. After another intervention from Bobiță, comes a scene unfolding on the tunes of Robotu (i.e. The Robot) by SEXPULAPISTOL (again, “rise below vulgarity”), and a few minutes later, we hear Freddy Alcool (i.e. Freddy Alcohol) by the same band. A music background made to capture the spectral nature of the world we live in, where dark techno looks combine with oriental sounds, and which includes a lot of swearing. And because the music in the car is curated, we already have a statement that will become more and more clear, especially after Țiganca (i.e. The Gypsy Woman) by Gheboasă starts playing (right while the film was having its premiere in festivals, the song was on the lips of every journalist in Romania, for it had become the object of a scandal at Untold, where all folks were offended by the obscene lyrics of the song – here is the film’s anticipation power).

After the visit to the Pepenaș family (where Angela #2 carries out her task for the corporation), Dă-mi banii tăi (i.e. Give Me Your Money) by Matteo Icelander & Lena starts playing in the car. When Bucharest started having its first manele-hipster parties, the phenomenon gave rise to new labels (Future Nuggets, first and foremost) that reformulated the genre: they began producing some sort of dub or electro manele that mixed the temptation of dancing on oriental music with the new wave atmosphere. The phenomenon continues today, it has since expanded to the work of some great artists from the Bucharest underground scene like Suce Fraga, but the origins are there: in the rehabilitation of the ‘manele’ genre by Adrian Schiop, in the hipster parties at Eden Club featuring Romeo Fantastick, in the emergence of Future Nuggets, etc. The song is from there, from the whole universe lost between Ferentari (where these parties originated), Casa Jurnalistului (i.e. The House of Journalists, where they culturally moved), Control Club and other bars in Bucharest (where they matured), Kran (where they were given a revamp), and Macaz (where they died with the bar). Again, a song as big as a world.

 

In the car, however, the songs continue, in a curated manner, to build the history of millennials (I make no speculation about the genesis of the soundtrack, I’m just inventing a way it works here): next, we have Vexxatu Vex and Dj. Sleek (Methadon 3000 – O mână, i.e. A Hand) while Angela #2 is waiting at a traffic light, staring at it (but really at nothing, right?), with lyrics like “Is it okay to lead a seemingly meaningless existence?” or “Raise a hand for the cleaning lady / Now put it down, it’s useless anyway” flooding the car.

Then she listens to minimal and techno while arguing in traffic with another driver (a violent pursuit with curses and rolled-down windows)  – the moment is accompanied by Panoramic by Cosmin TRG, but also two other songs from him, Motoric and Periplu Euxin, the latter released under the alias Tam Nisam by Cosmin Nicolae. Once again, nothing gratuitous about it. Cosmin TRG, with albums like Fifty Weapons, but also with extremely niche projects in theater/opera music or visual anthropology projects, perhaps represents the most important export product when it comes to Romanian electronic music, catching the attention of Berlin clubs and the world at the same time with [a:rpia:r] and getting invites to play sets for Boiler Room long before what coalesced as ‘ro-minimal’ gained traction. In a nutshell, a legend. And here, the minimal passages infiltrate the traffic disputes. Again, the obsession with reality being better represented than conventional realism could do: the techno bit is followed by Amintire cu haiduci (i.e. Memory with Outlaws) by Valeriu Sterian. By now, one can understand the role of the transition more than the music itself. It simply zaps through some very long commutes from one work point to another, and the music here must resemble the chaos of a Spotify playlist made over time, in moments of nostalgia, retromania, or out of a desire for a radical update.

After a while, the music in the car stops. It no longer makes sense. The day went by and the music would only make the work harder. Angela #2 passes by the fountains in Bucharest, stares blankly into space, shakes her head from fatigue. She re-enters the industrial settings of Angela Goes On, again through vaporwave.

One of the last appearances of the soundtrack’s hero  – the car radio – is almost didactic in this sense. The playlist escorting one scene combines a hip-hop song (Șefu – i.e. Boss – by Macanache), a techno bit (Periplu euxin by Tam Nisam, aka Cosmin TRG), and a classic piece (Piano Concerto No. 1 in F Major by Mozart). After a few shots, the atmosphere returns to mock techno with Cuțu cuțu (i.e. Doggy Woggy) by Tom Boxer and Tu Locura by Sait Esmeray & Otilia.

After this whirlwind of genres, Angela #2 gets some rest in the car, and when she gets up to scroll a bit through TikTok, the random music there follows its own chaotic selection. The next moments featuring some kind of soundtrack are deconstructed by the action itself. We have the song commissioned by Radu Mazăre for an ad for Mamaia resort playing as Mr. Bucă goes with his family to the filming location, himself less shy than his character should be (and this gives him, again, the opportunity to overcome his realism, the fact that even though he is a victim, he makes cheeky jokes with the ladies passing by). The playlist then returns to Mozart when Angela #2 picks up Doris Goethe (the Austrian director), the film somehow suggesting the spur-of-the-moment conventionalism the character indulges in, but ends with manele for the director to see what the locals are listening to. She had heard about ‘manele’ and wants to see how they sound, so Angela #2 plays her Sandu Ciorbă and Gheboasă.

Hence the feeling of a chaotic montage, of an eclectic composition. You feel like you go through all the musical styles and all the obscure genres and subgenres precisely because you go through all of them. The car radio/Spotify playlist is a narrative device that allows the illusion of totality. Angela #2’s car has all the music out there as anything can be played. The songs that are not in the fable – it goes without saying – are in for another day. Uncurated but defining for the situation precisely because it’s not random. The music selection comes from a possible archive that can include anything. And that’s the idea: a form of realism where the lack of a curatorial strategy for the soundtrack raises the film to the level of reality.

 

Ștefan Baghiu