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‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’ Review: Golden Bear Winner Is Shocking, Brilliant Pandemic Satire

Radu Jude's tale of a sex tape gone wrong jams two very different movies together for a bold, hilarious take on society's awful state.

bad luck banging or looney porn

“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn”

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The brilliance of “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” Romanian director Radu Jude’s astonishing Berlinale Golden Bear-winning satire, comes from a most unusual combination by jamming together two very different kind of movies that shouldn’t work in harmony, but end up making perfect sense. The filmmaker’s bold approach suggests what might happen if someone spliced a late-period Jean-Luc Godard essay film into the middle of “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie,” with such mesmerizing results that you just have to roll with it. One of European cinema’s most unclassifiable auteurs has delivered the bitter pill we deserve.

“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” begins as the story of a sex tape gone wrong, with circumstances unfolding at the center on the restless streets of Bucharest, as the frantic problems of a schoolteacher and the community divided against her take place against much larger concerns. Then, the movie zooms out to a cosmic degree, folding in a prolonged montage of terms for modern times that encapsulate virtually every phase of human history.

Returning to the pandemic satire in its the final passage, Jude puts that flimsy scenario in context, allowing the underlying stupidity of his subjects to become all the more pronounced. It’s a daring and hilarious cinematic gamble that gives a justifiable middle finger to the sheer inanity of the Western world — and it’s also an unpredictable blast, and an angry editorial cartoon that invites us into its outrage.

Jude’s uncompromising approach opens with the graphic home movie in question, which features Emi (Katia Pascariu) wearing a very different kind of mask as she gets it on with her husband, while he films the dirty deed. A cartoonish opening music cue, paired with chapter titles set against a pink background, suggests the makings of a zany comedy. But the next passage recedes from it, leaving us to wonder where the punchlines are hiding.

As it turns out, that’s part of Jude’s sly agenda. The ensuing first act finds Emi living with the aftermath of her sex tape leak as the city seems indifferent to her concerns. Following a brief visit to the home of the school’s headmistress (Claudia Ieremia), Emi, who teaches high schoolers, learns that parents have been so disturbed by the leak of the tape that they’ve called for an emergency meeting. As she wanders the city, making nervous calls to her husband (who remains unseen) and goes about her routine, her circumstances take on a jittery, naturalistic quality while the movie gradually widens its focus.

For all the embarrassment and frustrations of Emi’s situation, it turns out she’s hardly the only person contending with a fragile existence. As she roams through the busy backdrop, Jude slips into documentary mode: The shaky cam follows her through crowded streets and markets, where pedestrians occasionally cuss out the camera, their eyes peering out above those flimsy masks many have come to abhor. It’s a subtle masterstroke that positions Emi in the midst of countless mini-dramas, from virulent pedestrians yelling at drivers who get in their way to a furious argument in line at the supermarket over food stamps.

The frame often drifts away from Emi to capture everyday slices of life, making its point in blunt but intriguing terms: Everyone’s lost in their own little worlds, forgetting the much bigger picture around them.“It’s never anyone’s fault! We’re all innocent!” growls an impatient shopper as Emi watches her meltdown at the cash register. The anxiety is everywhere: It’s no surprise that one of Emi’s many stops finds her dropping by the drug store, where she makes a vain attempt to score some Xanax. Sitting through her wayward journey, we could use one, too.

And then comes that jarring interlude. With another boisterous chapter heading, the movie careens into a “short dictionary of anecdotes, signs, and wonders,” stuffing in fragments of Romania’s Socialist history and military persecution alongside poetry, architecture, and eroticism. In the process of recounting his country’s most recent atrocities, with images of Nicolae Ceaușescu flitting by, he lingers on a graphic snippet of fellatio as the subtitles pointing out that “blowjob” is the word most commonly looked up in the dictionary. It’s a ham-fisted but nevertheless quite funny juxtaposition of terms, bursting with the irony of a society too horny to care for its most serious matters.

Newcomers to Jude’s work may find themselves baffled by the unwieldy blend of narrative and montage. Yet “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” consolidates the dueling impulses found across this eclectic filmmaker’s work since his sleeper hit “Everybody in Our Family” made waves on the circuit almost 10 years ago. That movie, a twisted slice of social realism about domestic abuse, suggested Jude was a particularly devious contributor to the naturalistic filmmaking style associated with the Romanian New Wave. But Jude has taken several unusual swings since then. These include the black-and-white dramedy “Aferim!,” which follows a Gypsy slave and his police captor through the bumbling 19th-century countryside, and the non-narrative 2017 archival work “The Dead Nation,” which uses still images from the ‘30s and ‘40s to explore how official documentation of the period attempted to weed out the Holocaust from the history books.

It’s that searing, experimental approach that provides the foundation for the new movie’s middle passage, and gives the filmmaker justifiable ammo for deepening the surrounding narrative by rooting it in a larger argument. Late in the dictionary section of “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” we’re told that 99 percent of all creatures that ever lived are now extinct. And yet these stupid, pandemic-inflicted, ritual-bound talking apes still manage to hang around. Message received.

When Jude returns to Emi’s scenario, the parodic circumstances have grown more pronounced. The movie’s final chapter takes place at an absurdist outdoor tribunal, as Emi is forced to contend with maniacal parents hurling epithets her way behind their masks; eventually, they even pull out an iPad to watch the graphic tape in its entirety (“We must see it to the happy end!”) as she shrivels away next to them. The mess of ideologies and historical tensions from the midsection come to bear in a riotous set of cruel epithets, sexist asides, and self-righteous declarations about why Emi shouldn’t get to keep her job, even though she didn’t actually do anything wrong. Jude gets carried away with letting his mob yell out every possible contemporary reference (even Fox News gets a shoutout), but given the meta nature of the movie, it’s no surprise that it collapses into overstatement.

As the situation bubbles up to a conclusion, Jude unleashes three very different endings to Emi’s situation — and it’s the third, craziest possibility that makes this entire strange endeavor worth the wait: It all comes down to a John Waters-like eruption of grotesque rage and outré wish-fulfillment that works on too many levels to spoil here, except to say that they involve a jarring fantasy of female empowerment never put to screen before. In Jude’s eyes, the world is a dead serious place, but it’s also a sick joke, and that paradox makes it clear we’re all fucked.

Grade: A-

“Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn” premiered at the 2021 Berlin Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

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