Review: 4:15 P.M. The End of the World

written by Emre Çağlayan


Romanian duo Cătălin Rotaru and Gabi Virginia Şargă add to a countless series of apocalyptic films with their relatively subdued and understated short 4:15 P.M. THE END OF THE WORLD / 4:15 P.M. SFÂRȘITUL LUMII (2016). And yet this is no film concerned with a spectacular destruction of the world, nor is it as thrilling and cathartic as per the formulaic characteristics of a random summer blockbuster.

Here, somewhere around the plains of Southern Romania, it is not so much a natural catastrophe that causes humanity’s demise but something much more indistinguishable – a degradation of ethics and an inexcusable indifference towards human suffering. Dan is an ordinary, middle-aged, middle-class man, who drives his commercial van across a provincial road at the demands of his boss. On the road he encounters a hitchhiker, who soon introduces himself as Jesus Christ, literally, as the one and only son of God. For Dan this is all but a joke, and he provokes Jesus into reading his thoughts. In an unexpected revelation, Jesus tells Dan about the latter’s 397-day insomnia since a traumatic experience that ruined his family and his soul, which triggers further tragedy.

The ways in which the film stages dialogue, is reminiscent of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN ANATOLIA / BIR ZAMANLAR ANADOLU'DA (2011), a recent film out of a cluster of others from the Balkan region, where the framing of characters as talking heads in a confined space lay bare an imposed, artificial and invisible social hierarchy. In the case of 4:15 P.M. THE END OF THE WORLD, the short makes complex references to the New Testament and the frictions between different social classes, by employing a visual aesthetic that comprises an indistinct variation on the hyperrealist wave of contemporary Romanian films that took international festivals by storm in the last decade.

But there is another entry point that is most likely unavailable to audiences unfamiliar with the social history of Romania. Jesus declares his terminal direction as Videle, a small town located at the Western outskirts of Bucharest and home to a hospital for abandoned and handicapped children throughout the late 1980s. This hospital was the place that also led to an international scandal in June 1990 when an investigative journalist at the Washington Post published a report on the systematic neglect and appalling conditions of orphaned children, suffering from an inconceivable range of atrocities. It is not clear whether there is a direct link, yet Romanian directors are known for drawing inspiration from their individual memories of the dictatorship. At the very least, the mention of the town is symptomatic of Ceaușescu's legacy that continued to haunt Romanian society well into the 1990s, and that perhaps Dan’s insomnia is bound to last longer than a mere 397 days.