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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Film

Berlinale 2021: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn Turns Sex into a Sensational History Sermon

What’s worse: porn or genocide?

Radu Jude’s latest feature is so full of contradictory and thrilling ideas it’s hard to know where to start, what to cover and how to even discuss it. A porn video revenge treatise that examines Romanian hypocrisy through a mixture of documentary, essay and theatre, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn shows off the director’s unique gift of educating while entertaining, making films that exercise the mind like no other. 

It starts with a video that looks like millions of others you can find on the internet: a woman named Emi (Katia Pascariu) wearing a cat-mask while having sex with her husband. But when the (extraordinarily graphic and seemingly unsimulated) video mysteriously surfaces on PornHub, her job as a teacher is suddenly under jeopardy. (The video may shock milder sensibilities, but there’d be no way for Jude to interrogate the pornographic theme without showing us what we’re actually dealing with.) She faces a miniature tribunal at the school, with angry parents baying for blood. 

But first she has to get there, winding the long streets of Bucharest, where the car reigns supreme and walking is constantly interrupted by the roaring of engines. With a Godardian sense of playfulness, the film follows Emi strolling the streets, interacting with people in masks, the camera often wandering off to survey the cityscape. Two adverts in particular stand out: a woman simulating a blowjob, two shirtless men flexing for a gym. These are fine, the streets argue: a woman making her own video is not… 

Set during coronavirus, but during the summer where masks and distancing measures are everywhere yet everything else seems to be open as usual, Jude uses the pandemic as an amplifier of existing Romanian tensions, showing how mask-wearing, albeit necessary to limit the spread, debilitates human relations. Characters compare the restrictions to the reign of Nicolae Ceaușescu, the brutal dictator who ran the country for 34 years. We even visit his grand Palace of the Parliament, built by slave labor, with a tour guide’s talk interrupted by tourists taking selfies. 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

If this all sounds rather dense, suffused with bitter, cutting irony, things get positively opaque during the film’s second part, a silent essay using subtitles to explore all manners of hypocrisies and horrors; covering the holocaust, sexual assault, child abuse, poverty, racism and more. Ulitizing an Adam Curtis-like array of anecdotes and sweeping statements, it shows the director operating at peak, pontificating form. Luckily for the viewer, it’s as thrillingly-made as it is informative, filled with style, attitude and provocation. 

While the previous two sections felt like the voice of the director himself, the final section, a play-like discussion of Emi’s behavior, opens things up for debate, adding more voices to an already crowded film. Sometimes the heavy-handed themes and types — like an army officer who won’t hear a bad word against Antonescu or an airline pilot who believes people wearing masks are “sheeple” — can grate; nonetheless their one-dimensional natures help to explore the many facets of Emi, dynamically rendered by Pascuriu. Like Spike Lee, didacticism is part and parcel of Jude’s filmmaking, holding no prisoners when criticising the Romanian government.

He returns again and again to his pet theme of history, explored more academically in Uppercase Print and I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians, and his sincere belief that poor education helps history to repeat itself. The parents are not only upset about the sex tape, they’re also furious that she teaches children “Jewish propaganda” like the fact Romania contributed to the systematic murder of countless Roma and Jews. He uses the metaphor of Medusa, who could only be seen through Theseus’s shield. History, he argues, filled with unspeakable barbarities, can only be seen through the mirror of film. But this mirror seems infinitely distorted by prejudice, leaving no room for real conclusion. 

The ultimate argument seems to be that it’s easier to condemn a woman for giving blowjobs and taking it from behind than to interrogate your own relationship to history and politics. After all, amateur pornography between consenting adults is pretty tame stuff compared to holocausts and repressions, deadly pandemics and the worst rural poverty in the EU. But what makes Jude so satisfying is his lack of Marxist-inflected inevitability; rather than working up to a dialectic resolution, he presents three rather different endings, giving the viewer no satisfying sense of closure. We are left like Emi, walking the streets, trying to shore up the vast amount of contradictory symbols around us, and try to make them into a cohesive whole. Porn might be the least of our worries.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn plays in Competition at the Berlin Film Festival, running from 1st to 5th of March.

Written By

As far back as he can remember, Redmond Bacon always wanted to be a film critic. To him, being a film critic was better than being President of the United States

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