• Reviewed at the 2021 Berlinale

Radu Jude started out his directing career making dark-humoured satires that were much in keeping with the realist territory of his Romanian New Wave counterparts, but has in recent years turned the heat of controversy way up, embracing wild formal invention and fearless political confrontation. And he’s not just posturing for shock’s sake: in a Romania tackling a far-right resurgence, the stakes are high, and his aims are deadly serious. In his sprawling, digressive I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018), he used public re-enactment to take on his country’s complicity in Holocaust atrocities. Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is another dismal state-of-the-nation report card, but a more riotously bonkers one, as he throws decorum in the trash to reveal the hypocrisy of the powerful as the true vulgarity.

School teacher Emi (Katia Pascariu) is landed in a very public scandal after a sex tape she’s in goes viral. Her husband uploaded it to the internet against her will, but it’s her that bears the brunt of the condemnation. After all, what about the children? But as she walks around a COVID-era Bucharest, we hear a foul-mouthed citizenry cursing each other out on the smallest of pretexts, in a state of perpetual misanthropic angst – the inevitable breakdown in social fabric, we sense, of a land helmed by brazen contempt.     

And there is no escaping audience complicity. The film opens with the explicit porn in question – in bedroom-DIY, warts-and-all tastelessness, with dirty talk to make the most self-congratulatorily progressive of audiences cringe and blush. Do we judge the teacher for her private, consensual pastimes? The film is structured so that any assumptions are interrogated.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc, 2021)

A second part exposes us to a “short dictionary of anecdotes, signs and wonders,” which is essentially a parade of horrifying injustice that expands the film’s territory beyond chauvinistic sexual politics. Colonisers manhandling indigenous women’s breasts; the Orthodox Church keeping its doors closed to revolutionaries under army fire in 1989; a Nazi massacre of Jews and Roma on the Eastern Front speeded up so troops could celebrate Christmas; queer performers facing a shout of “degenerates”; the death by blood poisoning of a Romanian worker in Italy who extracted his own teeth as he couldn’t afford a dentist – all this and more rushes by in archive photos and labelled clips; a haphazard blizzard for our social media age.

We’re prodded to ask ourselves where the real horror is to be found, and who deserves to be held to account – Emi, whose only offence is not adhering to demure and vanilla sexual practices, or a sanctimonious Church and state with blood on their hands through lethal corruption and violent prejudice?

The third part comprises a wacky tribunal, in which Emi must hold her own against a barrage of insults, leering curiosity, and anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, under the supposed social hygiene of surgical masks (the film was shot in pandemic lockdown). Jude has made it impossible to look away.

Further reading

Uppercase Print review: a graffiti hero exposes the systemic rot of communist Romania

Uppercase Print review: a graffiti hero exposes the systemic rot of communist Romania

Radu Jude interview: “Scarred Hearts is like a jazz piece”

By Jonathan Romney

Radu Jude interview: “Scarred Hearts is like a jazz piece”

“Incompetence was killing the victims”: Alexander Nanau on his health-service exposé Collective

By Nick Bradshaw

“Incompetence was killing the victims”: Alexander Nanau on his health-service exposé Collective

Touch Me Not first look: Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner explores hard-won sexual self-determination

By Paul O’Callaghan

Touch Me Not first look: Adina Pintilie’s Golden Bear winner explores hard-won sexual self-determination

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