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‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’ Review: A Bad-Taste Assault on the Notion of Obscenity

An amateur porn video lands a teacher in hot water in Radu Jude's deliberately offensive attack on the hypocrisy of modern society.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
Ghetie Silviu

A high school teacher and her husband make a sex tape, which finds its way onto the internet, sparking outrage among her pupils’ parents, in Romanian director Radu Jude’s irreverent contemporary satire, “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.” Jude pitched the project, then simply known as “Sleepwalkers,” at Berlin’s European Film Market in February 2020, and rather than scrap plans once the pandemic hit, he opted to embrace safety protocols and make the film anyway, delivering in time for the 2021 Berlinale. That makes this provocative and unapologetically profane Buñuelian prank one of the first examples of a genuine auteur work to emerge in a world upended by COVID-19, and it should get plenty of (virtual) festival play as a result.

Shooting mostly outdoors (where billboards stand as ironic reminders of pre-pandemic human desires) and incorporating such details as social distancing and personal protective equipment (emphasis on the “personal,” since the movie’s mask wearers project their identities via their eccentric fashion choices) add of-the-moment texture to this absurdist time capsule. Jude subtitles the whole affair “a sketch for a popular film,” which excuses some of the oddly structured movie’s shaggier aspects, though it’s hard to imagine him ever revisiting “Loony Porn” in a more broadly accessible form. This in-your-face art-house gambol is as populist as the director gets.

The project is divided into three parts, beginning with the illicit recording — which Jude might easily have left to audiences’ imaginations — and building to an impromptu people’s tribunal wherein the parents decide the humiliated teacher’s fate. Never mind that it was the husband of Emi (Katia Pascariu) who filmed her and uploaded the video; these outraged citizens treat her as if she were a Salem witch, reviewing the embarrassing footage in her presence and then picking it apart like a pack of film critics, that most pedantic of species.

By opening with the sex tape, Jude tips his hand as to his own position — namely, that he’s not (and doesn’t think we should be) offended by the explicit imagery on display. These days, ordinary folks encounter far worse simply browsing the internet, and while such sights remain relatively taboo in cinema, “Loony Porn” serves them up with a laugh. This alone feels revolutionary, as movies tend to treat sex with stylized seriousness, whereas the real thing can often be clumsy and awkward. Genuine intercourse might be downright hilarious if observed by a disinterested third party, just as Jude presents it (with ridiculous stripper-wig role play and what sounds like an off-screen mother-in-law shouting banal questions from the other room).

Point taken, but the director may have overestimated our tolerance for such material. No matter how sophisticated the audience, it’s shocking to be confronted with graphic sex acts in a film’s opening minutes, before we’ve even met the characters. Building on the arm’s-length social critique of 2009’s “The Happiest Girl in the World,” Jude goes on to contrast Emi’s “crime” with the everyday incivility and abuse she experiences on the streets of Bucharest — which include a foulmouthed old lady who curses at the camera and a jerk who obstructs a crosswalk with his grotesquely oversize SUV.

For these scenes, cinematographer Marius Panduru (“Police, Adjective”) adopts the “Roma”-style strategy of covering the action from an austere remove, panning slowly left and right like an oscillating room fan. That strategy obliges audiences to do the work of assigning meaning to these tableaux. Long shots of Emi navigating urban Bucharest can feel like watching Jacques Tati in action, and while these visually rich scenes are packed with details that will spark different associations for every viewer, mainstream audiences (the demographic for Jude’s hypothetical “popular film”) will almost certainly crave a bit more active storytelling to engage them.

They get it in the final segment, which finds Emi vastly outnumbered as she faces a motley jury of her peers (an odd group that includes a military officer and a priest wearing a Black Lives Matter-themed “I Can’t Breathe” mask). Only here, with her face half-covered, does lead actor Pascariu finally get a chance to look more than merely exasperated.

Not everyone is against her, and Emi proves quick-witted enough to mount an intelligent self-defense, relying on her specific area of expertise: Romanian history. It’s safe to assume that the subject will be a blind spot for most audiences, which makes her arguments all the more impressive, as when she references raunchy writings by the nation’s most venerated poet, Mihai Eminescu. If the country can selectively ignore such verses, she argues, surely it can forgive an isolated indiscretion from a respected instructor.

Jude presents three possible outcomes to this grotesque mock trial, each one more preposterous than the last, before freeze-framing on the film’s most blasphemous image yet (a high bar, considering all that’s come before). In the first and third parts of the film, the director shows Emi doing her best to damage-control the unwanted public attention around her private life. Sandwiched between these food-for-thought segments like an unsavory slab of mystery meat, “Loony Porn” serves up a rowdy slide show in which Jude essentially assumes the mock-pedagogical role of instructor himself.

In the vulgar 26-minute montage that follows, the director redefines common concepts (e.g., “History,” “Pornography” and “The Romanian Orthodox Church”) in shock-comic terms. It’s a dizzying sequence, dense with ideas and all but guaranteed to offend. But that’s almost certainly Jude’s point, as “Loony Porn” combats the parents’ charges of obscenity with the implication that colonialism, communism, capitalism and Christianity are all guilty of far worse crimes. Yes, but … are these systems really on trial here? In a Radu Jude movie, the answer is: always. A simple premise can serve as a portal to profound social critique, for those willing to take the plunge.

‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’ Review: A Bad-Taste Assault on the Notion of Obscenity

Reviewed online, Los Angeles, Feb. 22, 2021. (In Berlin Film Festival.) Running time:

  • Production: (Romania-Luxembourg-Czech Republic-Croatia) A microFILM Romania production, co-produced with Paul Thiltges Distribution, endorfilm, Kinorama, in association with Bord Cadre Films, Sovereign Films. (World sales: Heretic Outreach, Athens.) Producer: Ada Solomon. Co-producers: Paul Thiltges, Adrien Chef, Jiří Konečný, Ankica Jurić Tilić.
  • Crew: Director, writer: Radu Jude. Camera; Marius Panduru. Editor: Cătălin Cristuțiu. Music: Jura Ferina, Pavao Miholjević.
  • With: Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Mălai, Nicodim Ungureanu, Alexandru Potocean, Andi Vasluianu.
  • Music By: