Romanian Director Radu Jude’s ‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn?’ Gives …

Your discombobulation begins with the gnarled English of that title—Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn? It sounds like the text of a particularly inept Ukrainian phishing scam—or maybe it made sense in director Radu Jude’s native Romanian? That “or,” suggesting an equivalence between two awkward and not quite similar old-timey-sex constructions, is just bad. nevertheless, the more you pick at this information salad, and warm to its sense of acerbic skylarking, the closer you get to the crazy scheme of Jude’s new film. It was made to test you.

That’s in more ways than one, starting with the opening salvo of real sex tape sequences, which are “real” insofar as the couples wearing COVID-masks in them are enthusiastically fucking in iPhone selfie close-ups. Expecting another sardonic and/or dour Romanian New Wave film, you get spunk in your eye. (nevertheless, something like 20 minutes were cut for a U.S. release, maybe from this first act.) Never quite as festival-awarded as several of his countrymen, Jude remains the Wave’s Godard figure, disrupting expectations, opening old historical wounds, and feeling free to forget there’s such a thing as a fourth wall. Bad Luck Banging is his most blatantly Godardian film, coalescing into a tripartite essay on current Romanian society—like, all of it—and sex.

Part 1 is virtually a city symphony á la Godard’s 2 or 3 Things I Know about Her, as it follows Emi (Katia Pascariu) as she deliberately strides by Bucharest in a business suit and a disguise on a series of errands, and struggling via various phone conversations with the fact that a sex tape she’d made got uploaded onto a porn site. (Which we saw at the top, though there’s no reason to think Pascariu was truly one of the masked humpers.) She’s a teacher, so it’s a scandal. 

That’s about as much information as we get from her. Jude shoots Emi from various distances, the city hustling around her, and it’s the camera’s roving, disinctive gaze that becomes the film’s often hilarious running joke. As in, patient circular pans keep up onto Emi’s fraught progress until they wander off, distracted by modern capitalist Romania: signs, shop windows, passing busses, arguments in traffic, phallic buildings, sexually suggestive billboards, dismembered mannequins on the sidewalk, people dressed up as promotions (a tomato, a rabbit), acres of garish consumerism, and so on. There are emotional exchanges, all of them hostile; at one point, an old lady in a disguise simply spits, “Eat my cunt!” to the camera. The upshot is a kind of mute but amused inquisition, like a stranded time traveler looking around and silently saying, “really?” 

The matter of removing the sex tape from websites is unresolved. Part 2—“anecdotes”—is like mainlining late Godard, leaving narrative behind and rustling by a found-footage junk drawer of modern history since WWII. Jude sprays the crowd here, touching on gouts of oppression and injustice, making speculative or didactic observations about sex, teeth, the French dramatical change, Ceausescu, war, and neo-fascists, you name it, while freely cutting in of-the-moment homemade porn and concerns about global warming. 

The spillway of info and opinion, salted with a very Romanian cynicism, plays very much like a stuffed notebook of outrages, and indeed Jude subtitled his movie “a sketch for a popular film” —an capricious action he took during the pandemic. At the same time, he’s building a case, pitting the criminal explosions and hypocrisies of modern society against the innocent esprit of plain old nookie—and porn, which is, after all, just fucking in public. 

Or is it? Jude’s pig-pile of evidence and arguments is messy—he’s nevertheless sketching—and gives way to Part 3, titled “Praxis & innuendo (sitcom).” Here we return to Emi, as she’s called before a kangaroo court of her school’s administrators and fellow teachers, in a safe-distanced courtyard that is, wittily, slowly transformed into a rainbow-hued, torch-lit altar-space that resembles one of Peter Greenaway’s arch tableaux. The argue begins with obscene insults and summary judgments, and flies off the manager from there, touching on every social issue of the last 20 years—privacy, internet porn, mansplaining, #MeToo, cancel culture, school curricula, conspiracy theories, etc.—with Emi holding her complete-throated own with the help of a few Post-Structuralist allies. 

The sand-blasting discourse runs from asinine to Freudian, and it’s no mystery where Jude’s sympathies lie: in the hot libido, where society’s nose has no business. This whole out-of-joint odyssey could’ve been made by the late, mad Serbian orgasmist Dusan Makavejev (WR: Mysteries of the Organism, Sweet Movie). The trial ordern wraps up the film with three endings—at the minimum one of which is guaranteed to piss you off.

The esprit and freedom Jude exercises in Bad Luck Banging is exhilarating but also exhausting, if only because we’re looking for a more decisive, and simplistic, perspective on what we tend to think are simple issues. Jude would rather slap us in the confront with a dildo, figuratively and literally, as he searches for some uncorrupted progressive shared sense, in a country with half its head up its ass.   ❖



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