Opening your film with a bit of video you’d normally find in the Amateur section on Pornhub (or so I’ve been told, of course) will get tongues wagging to the point of casting a shadow over people’s reaction to everything that follows it. But Romanian writer-director Radu Jude’s ninth feature, whose title Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (we’ll stick with Bad Luck Banging from here on) fits its cartoony aesthetic, works for a deeper message and more social satire than its crazy tale seems to suggest on the surface. And yes, it does end (possibly) with a woman in a superhero suit ramming a dildo the size of child’s arm down the throats of a bunch of people she caught in a large net, but Bad Luck Banging still has something serious to say. The tone, however, is often far from serious, which threatens to lessen the impact of Jude’s polemic against hypocritical slut-shaming when there are far more important issues to deal with.
The aforementioned video was made by Emi (Katia Pascariu) and her husband. The latter inadvertently leaked the video onto the internet, and since the internet never forgets, the modest schoolteacher has now become a viral sensation among her students. The film’s opening act follows Emi through a sticky and face-masked Bucharest (it is probably the most clearly mid-pandemic film at this year’s Berlinale) as she makes several phone calls to ensure that this crisis is nipped in the bud and she can retain her job. All around her the scars the COVID crisis is leaving behind are visible in a short-fused city near boiling point. A visit with her superior assures her that her job will be safe.
Enter the interlude, to the happy tune of a French song straight out of a Louis de Funès comedy. “A short dictionary of anecdotes, signs, and wonders.” What follows is an ironical pastiche of clips and images that underline Romania’s history of anti-Semitism, fascism, sexism and other assorted negative -isms. And an actual blowjob, but that’s only fair, since we are told it is the most looked-up word in online dictionaries (’empathy’ is second). Balancing on a rope between the serious and the satirical, and quoting thinkers from throughout history, Jude’s underlying criticism of his home country is at its most biting in this lengthy sequence that consistently wrong-foots the audience.
Back to Emi’s story, as she appears in front of a tribunal of sorts, having to face down an angry parents’ meeting summoned to decide her fate. Her principal, cowed by the public outrage over the video, suddenly is less willing to fight for Emi. She has to stand up to a barrage of insults hurled at her, having to defend herself against hypocrisy, sexism, and accusations of ‘Jewish propaganda’, not to mention some anti-vaxxer conspiracy theories and other COVID-related one-liners that have nothing to do with her unforced error. Jude’s message here is as blunt as it is clear: worrying about children being exposed to sex is the least of the issues Romania has to deal with, and those who take offense would do well to take a hard inward look. To complete the farcical nature of this final act, Jude proposes three different endings to Bad Luck Banging, the final one (featuring the large sex toys and all) being the most explosive. The other options are more straightforward, proposing either a happy end (Emi can stay on) or a sad one (Emi is fired).
Raunchy, crass, provocative, lewd. Bad Luck Banging is all of the above. But erudite, smart, and daring also apply. Radu Jude turns the mirror towards the audience: are you turned off by the bawdiness and insensitive humor, or are you willing to look beyond that to see where the real problems in society lie? Bad Luck Banging is a film that for sure will divide audiences, but those a little less scared of Jude’s sledgehammer and non-PC humor will find that he actually raises a good point.