Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn poster.
While the title of the latest work of Radu Jude, which earned the Romanian auteur a Golden Bear (the main prize of the prestigious International Berlin Film Festival Berlinale) earlier this year, suggests quite a ridiculous, maybe even campy cinematic spectacle hidden underneath it, just like with every other great piece of satirical storytelling, the roots of Jude’s film lay in the soil made of the social and political discourses of the present day.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (org. Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc) is yet another entry in the unsurprisingly emerging tendency of the cinema worldwide, a tendency that I jokingly like to call a Corona Cinematic Universe. It groups films of various genres, taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Other notable examples of this bizarre universe include Rob Savage’s supernatural desktop horror Host, a more compelling successor to Levan Gabriadze’s Unfriended, and the already infamous Jason Woliner’s mockumentary Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, with Sacha Baron Coren reprising his role as the titular Kazakh news reporter Borat.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic turning into an all-absorbing, anxiety-driven landscape of Jude’s film, the focus of this satirical piece is not at all the life during this unfortunate period of time, but rather the questionable values and ideals of the Romanian people. During the everything-disrupting time like this, these values and ideals are forced to erupt from the inner shadows of each and every person and inevitably collide with one another, exposing the misogyny, antisemitism, corruption and many other vices of the often hypocrisy driven Romanian society.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn depicts the stressful day of the history teacher Emi (Katia Pascariu), whose explicit sex tape, made together with her husband Eugen, which completely uncensored appears as the opening of the film, unexpectedly becomes acquainted by her underage students and their parents. While it first appears that Emi had originally claimed the video was possibly posted on the pornography website without her consent by the employees of the computer repair shop, later she chooses to shift the blame to her husband. However, the phone call with her partner in crime suggests that maybe Emi was the one who published the video, possibly in desperation to make additional money as the teacher’s salary might not be enough even working in the prestigious school. That could explain Emi’s travels across the somewhat emotionally suffocating streets of Bucharest on foot, rather than by car, a vehicle that she does not seem to own. “Suck my dick! You can’t even afford a car!”—that’s only one of the many vulgar insults yelled by a man, after Emi confronts him for impudently parking his car on a sidewalk.
The unpleasant situation that Emi finds herself in seems to be very relevant in today’s world, especially when just last December a young paramedic from New York City was malevolently outed by two New York Post journalists for having a side gig on OnlyFans, a content subscription service popularised by sex workers. The two reporters published the story without the interviewee’s consent in order to publicly shame her for choosing to sell sexual content in order to make ends meet since the low wages of paramedics are not enough to make a living in New York City.
As Emi is making her way through Bucharest, coming closer and closer to the hysterical present-day witch trial that awaits her in the courtyard of her own workplace—a meeting arranged by the parents of Emi’s students to determine her future in the school.
The camera, following the woman’s every step, constantly glances away, revealing a world in which this unpleasant situation might be far from the worst thing happening that day. A world in which too many people are emerged in their own bubbles, not only believing them to be so much bigger than they actually are, but not being capable of seeing the bigger picture outside of them as well. “It’s never anyone’s fault! We’re all innocent!” snarls an impatient woman, while throwing a meaningless tantrum at the cash register.
If the anxious scenery of Bucharest, captured by the documentary-esque camera of cinematographer Marius Panduru, is not enough to reveal the fate that awaits Emi, just before the time for evening’s main event, the retelling of Emi’s day is interrupted by an unexpected interlude titled “short dictionary anecdotes, signs, and wonders.” This experimental montage, which, at first glance, feels like a cutout from a very different body of work that ended up being patched onto this one, glances through the stagnant history of the questionable values and ideals of the Romanian people.
This interlude, however, is not exactly an exposé but rather a game of spot the difference. While this film presents a very critical view of the society of Jude’s native country, the many different vices that the director chooses to highlight are just as common for other nations as they are for the Romanian people. They may emerge from different contexts and exist in different forms and scales, but at the very end all of these anecdotes, signs, and wonders, as Radu Jude jokingly calls them, feel too familiar for our own comfort.
Despite the slow pacing of the two-thirds of the film, there never appears an opportunity for boredom to take over the viewing experience. The odd combination of different narrative styles managing the three different chapters of the film in a way encourages the viewer to constantly question the manner of Jude’s storytelling.
Therefore, it is hard to say what is more exciting: the long-awaited trial of the ‘porno teacher’ itself or the approach that the director takes in order to depict this climactic event in the way, in which it would bring this unique narrative triptych together. And Radu Jude succeeds in doing so by hyperbolizing the diverse manner of his storytelling. The Romanian director provides not one, but three possible outcomes to the malevolent mockery that is Emi’s trial, switching between frustrating reality and ecstatic revenge fantasy; the latter of which might sadly be the only way to condemn our depraved society.
With his newest work, the Romanian auteur Radu Jude dares his viewers to take a bold look at the unpleasantly silly reflection of ourselves and the world that surrounds us, consequently creating a satirical social critique worthy of being labelled as possibly one of the most important films already released this year.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is as provocative, as it is boldly sincere, unapologetically showcasing what the present-day feminist satire could and should be.