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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Unpacking a sex-tape scandal — as well as the state of the world today — this Romanian award-winner is scorching and searing from its first frame to its last.
By Sarah Ward
May 12, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
May 12, 2022
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Banging is the certainly word for it; when Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn begins, it's with high school teacher Emi (Katia Pascariu, Beyond the Hills) and her camera-wielding husband Eugen (first-timer Stefan Steel) having loud, enthusiastic, pink wig-wearing sex — and filming it. Romanian writer/ director Radu Jude (I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians) shows the explicit three-minute snippet of footage as others will see it, because others will indeed see it: the students at Emi's school, their parents and her fellow teachers among them. All genitalia and thrusting and lustful talk (and shouted queries through the door from whoever is looking after the couple's child), this graphic opening also makes a bold and firm statement. So many people within the film's frames will take issue with it as vocally as Emi and her partner are enjoying themselves and they're unmistakably enjoying themselves — but Jude definitely isn't one of them. 

2021's Berlinale Golden Bear-winner, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn also starts with a gleeful provocation — not just to those seeing Emi and Eugen's home video within the movie, but to Jude's viewers. It's a jolting opening that's exactingly orchestrated to make audiences react, then unpack their own instant reflexes in tandem with the rude on-screen posse that may as well be waving pitchforks. The underlying question: to those who object, what makes this raunchy romp between two consenting adults so shocking? Worse exists on the internet en masse all the time, so is it its unexpected arrival? Within the picture, is it the fact that Emi is a teacher, a woman or that she's unapologetic, too? Both queries speak to ideas long internalised about what we see where, who we allow to do what, and the power that comes from enforcing arbitrary and hypocritical judgements about supposed immorality and obscenity.

Indeed, loving, animated, costumed and sex toy-aided intercourse between a married couple in the privacy of their own home is the nicest thing that graces Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn — until the feature's glorious climax, that is. What follows the intimate clip is a razor-sharp satire of a world that's so indifferent to so much ghastliness and so often, yet remains so unaccepting of carnality and so quick to use it as a reason to unbridle our worst sniping impulses. The film wields that notion as a weapon, all as Emi and Bucharest's other residents also navigate the pandemic. Jude could've set his scorching feature at any time, but overtly drawing attention to the daily behaviour that's been accepted while the globe battles a decimating virus — and the fact that some here would rather fixate on a different and trivial kind of viral spread — makes a blunt but perceptive point.

Accordingly, in the cinema verite-style first section, Emi rushes around the city on foot, going about an ordinary day that morphs into anything but. Actually, given that she learns of the sex tape backlash while surrounded by everyday hostilities and vulgarities, this chapter reinforces an ugly truth: that the performatively horrified responses from the parents of Emi's students are all too routine. As she traverses the streets, Bucharesters yell and argue bitterly — swearing at each other in the grocery store, purposely hitting pedestrians with cars and otherwise uttering language that'd be at home in porn. Emi is one of them as she tries to get sedatives from the chemist and drops by her school headmistress' (Claudia Ieremia, I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians) home, but the mood and intent is to lay bare a city heaving and brawling in its natural state.

In this portion of the film, Jude and his regular cinematographer Marius Panduru observe intently and patiently, while also spying ample evidence of Romania's transition from communism to capitalism peppered around town. That helps anchor Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn's second act, which unleashes scathing and playful cine-essay snippets about the country's past, the planet's present, human behaviour — often at its most atrocious — and how porn is used as both a scapegoat and an anaesthetic. Again, subtlety isn't in the feature's wheelhouse here, nor need it be. Compiled from factual sources, such as news and social media, Jude badges this section 'A Short Dictionary of Anecdotes, Signs and Wonders' — and, in both providing context for so many of the movie's musings and exemplifying its experimental approach, it is certainly a wonder.

Lastly, a mask-wearing Emi is interrogated and publicly humiliated by parents and teachers, their punitive savagery and blatant sanctimoniousness on full display. It's the picture's first brilliant, biting and bleakly hilarious climax — what would a film about a sex tape be without more than one peak? — and it initially plays out as anticipated. Yes, "Fox News" is shouted, because Jude's commentary isn't only limited to his homeland. Still, while the kangaroo court-style inquisition Emi faces overflows with foreseeable revelations, they're still shrewd and sizzling, and the movie also saves some of its final knee-weakening thrusts for its last few twists. It also uses this segment to showcase the filmmaker's skilled handling of farce, his adaptability through the course of this free-wheeling feat, and Pascariu's exceptional performance. Trying to glean deeper expressions and emotions from above a strip of face-covering fabric is a pandemic reality; however, Pascariu turns it into tour de force.

Among the sights that Jude peers at in Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn's walk-and-witness section is a closed cinema, a 'for rent' sign on its window, which punctuates a chapter filled with incident after incident of antagonism — abuse and selfishness so common that it's clearly an engrained mindset. Losing even a single space to see art, connect with something bigger than oneself, and become immersed in different stories and perspectives alters any society, and it's easy to draw a line from there to Emi's arrogant and entitled tribunal of accusers. In a film designed to galvanise when watched communally thanks to its explicit opening, it's also easy to ponder how those censorious and bumptious parents would react if they were viewing this very movie. They'd likely be the type to desecrate the darkened theatre by loading the porn video on their phone mid-flick, only to then attack and insult anyone who asked them to pay attention to the feature in front of them and stop ruining the big-screen experience for everyone else. Jude could easily make a searing and stinging film about the state of Romania and the world out of that, too.

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