8.7

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn Is Exquisite Socio-Sexual Satire

Movies Reviews Radu Jude
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<i>Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn</i> Is Exquisite Socio-Sexual Satire

If you’re reading this, chances are that the festival circuit has already spoiled (or warned) that Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn begins with a full-blown unsimulated sex scene. Though it lasts only three minutes, it pretty much runs the gamut of typical sex acts: Fellatio, roleplay, masturbation, dirty talk, penetration, climax. Oh, and one more important detail: The intimate encounter has been filmed, shortly to be leaked on the internet and make its impression on the students and faculty at a private school in Bucharest, Romania. Yet none are more arrested by rabid moral outrage than the schoolchildren’s parents, who are horrified to find out that the woman who dons a pink wig and moans “I’m your slut!” in the video is none other than their kids’ history teacher.

The woman who dares straddle the slut/school teacher binary is Emi (Katia Pascariu), who is truly just as horrified that her own private sexual proclivities are now the obsession of local self-righteous, upper-class parents. On top of that, the parents are demanding that the administration hold an informal tribunal to vote on whether Emi should be allowed to keep her job. While the scandal surrounding the video and Emi’s subsequent battle to preserve her dignity while already having been branded as a Marxist whore is what guides the film’s plot, the actual narrative scope of Bad Luck Banging is far more complex. Divided into three distinct chapters, the self-described “sketch for a popular film” is bookended with two segments following the trajectory of Emi’s plight, the film’s final segment having the pleasure of providing the audience with three wholly different endings for the film, each gradually escalating in its scale of crude cultural commentary.

The middle chapter, however, is completely detached from the film’s established characters and plot, instead opting for a nearly half-hour exploration of the essence of various global, social and Romanian topics. The following are some of the many subjects that are touched upon: the Roman Orthodox Church, blonde jokes, cinema, social distancing, global warming, Jesus and cunts. Often only summarized by a few sentences or a single anecdote, Jude distills the human impact of each concept sharply and with indulgent humor. (Take the cultural significance of the blowjob, for example: “The most looked-up word in the Online Dictionary. The second is ‘empathy.’”) Though the fictional subject of Bad Luck Banging is rife enough for explicit satire, Jude is uninterested in moral grandstanding by way of metaphor and allusion. In our dire times, only outright admonishment of the world’s evils—some more publicly recognized than others—will suffice. However, Jude also recognizes that a touch of levity has never gotten in the way of the profound.

There remains plenty of space for revelations to be gleaned by the viewer, namely through cinematographer Marius Panduru’s wandering pans of Bucharest city streets. For a society so incensed over their children being exposed to salacious sexual acts, it would appear that this outrage is misplaced. Realistically, sex is intrinsic to our very existence—even within the most monotonous, dull minutiae of daily life. This is made evident as Emi runs errands around metropolitan Bucharest: Signs for exercise classes with oiled-up muscular men flexing, pregnant Barbie dolls, a masked old woman muttering “Eat my cunt!” in a crowded market. Ordinarily, our senses would not linger on these images and encounters; they are simply relegated to the unthinking part of our minds, nothing more than idle observance—that is, until their juxtaposition with the film’s plot immediately exposes their irony. In fact, after the second chapter, images from the first spring back into the audiences’ minds and demand reevaluation—until the film’s concluding chapter finally gives the audience the perverted sadistic spectacle that half had been hoping for while the other half dreaded it.

Perhaps ironically, perhaps inevitably, several people at the nearly packed screening of Bad Luck Banging at MoMa last week were not ready or willing to subject themselves to this thought experiment. This first became clear when two women in line asked what the movie playing tonight was called, only to be met with this response from a guy standing behind me: “Bad … something or other.” No questions were answered nor was clarity provided, least of all from the security guard at the door who was solely in charge of checking vaccine cards: “To be honest, I have no idea.”

After the first explicit scene of porno-play, walkouts ensued for the rest of the film’s runtime. This fact isn’t merely evidence of a crowd’s inability to have their filmic limits pushed for the sake of watching what is essentially an amateur porn tape, but rather proof of Jude’s effectiveness when provoking knee-jerk reactions to thorny topics. For those who wish to unravel the power dynamics inherent to sex, society and sensual pleasure while experimenting with what we as individuals are comfortable engaging with, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is a masterpiece that stimulates emotionally and philosophically. For those who walked out, well—let’s just be glad they didn’t stick around until the film’s final moments, when the prudish parents are forced to understand what it truly feels like having someone else’s morals shoved down their throats.

Director: Radu Jude
Writer: Radu Jude
Stars: Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicodim Ungureanu
Release Date: November 19, 2021 (Magnolia Pictures)


Natalia Keogan is a freelance film writer based in Queens, New York. Her work has been featured in Paste, Blood Knife and Filmmaker magazines, among others. Find her on Twitter.