Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc)★★1/2
Availability: Hulu, AppleTV, Disney (improbably), DirectTV, Vudu and Microsoft; see JustWatch here
We censor sex, not killing
Hypocrisy in your face, bawdy sex farce, and excess, as in excessively long sections, and excessively drawn-out ideas. If this sounds appealing, then the latest entry from Romania’s fertile alt-cinema, which earned Best Film at the Berlin International Film Festival, may be for you.
The Romanian title is more explicit and would be censored in the U.S.
“Bad Luck Banging” (the Romanian title is more explicit and would be censored in the U.S.) comes in three distinct, labeled parts—a common cinematic device these days. Part 1, “One-way street” (once the somewhat censored sex acts are dispensed with) features the protagonist, Emi, a professionally dressed woman on a mission, walking the streets of Bucharest, Romania’s capital city of 2 million. These walks, in which she crosses busy intersections at least 6 times, foreground a decadent capitalist cityscape—cacophonous, unkempt, unpleasant and difficult.
Emi (Katia Pascariu) is a
professional woman on
a mission on the streets
of cacophonous Bucharest.
Emi’s attempts to chastise men parking their large vehicles so they block crosswalks (an indication of her attention to civil order and law) result in F-word responses. An older woman uses the C-word, gratuitously. An ad on a billboard says, “I like it deep.” A mix of perverse sexuality and intolerance fill the air.
Foul-mouthed men blocking crosswalks with their oversize vehicles
incur Emi's anger, as she traverses the uncivil urban streets.
The “dirty words” that permeate the city’s public space are part of director Radu Jude’s comparison of sex (good) to current and past social values and behavior (bad). He’s questioning what is in fact “dirty” as Emi, whom we now know is a grade-school teacher, meets with her headmistress to discuss the explicit sex tape, made with Emi’s husband and somehow (maybe by Emi herself) uploaded to the Internet.
Loathed former Communist President Ceausescu’s enormous palace
is now a tourist site, as revealed in a brief episode in the
multitudinous "signs and wonders" of lengthy Part 2.
Part 2 is titled “A short dictionary of anecdotes, signs and wonders,” a phrase that obscures this section’s didacticism and ideological focus. A multitude of short takes with labels such as “War,” “Kitchen,” “Jesus,” and “Poet,” assail Romania’s Fascist past as well as its macho, racist, hypocritical present. There are old photos of aboriginals posed with their colonizers, a video of former Communist President Ceausescu’s enormous palace, now a tourist site. Under “Church,” nuns sing of allegiance to the Fascists; under “Kitchen,” the slogan is “where women belong.” “Children” are presented as tools of authoritarian parents. Even Eadweard Muybridge’s 1878 horse film, last seen in “Nope,” shows up. Like Parts 1 and 3, Part 2 is over-the-top. And it lasts a long, long time.
Emi is strong in defense of sexuality, privacy, and the right of adults to post on adult sites.
Part 3 is yet another type of filmmaking, more typical, set in the school courtyard where parents gather to hear out the students’ sex-tape instructor/“porn teacher.” Emi is strong in defense of sexuality, privacy, and the right of adults to post on adult sites. The parents are equally vigorous in their criticism of her, although a few offer support with lengthy philosophical statements and quotations, drawn from their smart phones. The meeting devolves into shouting, verbal attacks (“kikes,” “gypsies”) and praise for a white-washed Romanian nationalism. Even Holocaust denial.
Katia Pascariu, whose screen bio is limited, is a self-confident Emi, and Claudia Ieremia the even-tempered headmistress. Character actors round out the cast, including Nicodim Ungureanu, the most accomplished of the bunch, as the Fascist military man. But the film is Emi’s, and Pascariu is up to the task. She can display power simply in her way of walking through Bucharest in Part 1, and express determination to defend herself through her eyes above the mask in Part 3.
Katia Pascariu, as Emi,
is expressive even
Emi wouldn’t stand a chance in the U.S. today. The social media would erupt in condemnation, and she’d be fired without a hearing. Yet the polarization, moral extremism, and lack of civility as they are offered up here are clearly present in the U.S. in other forms: attacks on Critical Race Theory, laws mandating the teaching of only “positive” U.S. history, irritation with accommodating trans people, and book banning, not to mention the unyielding hostility of the anti-abortion contingent.
Emi wouldn’t stand a chance in the U.S. today.
Above, masked and convening a meeting outside in a courtyard
(per Covid protocols), the headmistress (Claudia Ieremia) attempts
to give Emi (Katia Pascariu), seated at the table, a chance
to defend herself against the parents' outrage at her sex-tape.
Jude, who started as an assistant to some of Romania’s most prominent New Wave directors, knows how to use their techniques of neo-realism (Emi walking through Bucharest), farce (Parts 2 and 3), and unrelenting attacks on Fascism and neo-Fascism. Like his mentors (and like the Italian neo-realists after World War II who didn’t have studios and filmed on the streets of Rome), he uses what’s at hand—in this case the streets and the spaces available under the Covid restrictions during which he filmed. Emi and the parents meet in the courtyard because they must gather outside. Everyone is masked, giving the encounter an eerie overlay of stifled truth. The dysfunctional sex-obsessed society of Part I, where one simply observes Bucharest (and don’t think Bucharest is different from much of the urban U.S.), is the same society that is moralistic in Part 3, the two parts book-ending the killing, war and dictatorship that is literally on parade in Part 2.
Because of its exploration of current topics, its willingness to posit sexuality as an ultimate good (shades of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in their “bed-in for peace”), and its unrelenting attack on totalitarianism, clearly on the rise today, “Bad Luck Banging” is a worthy vehicle of social and political analysis. Its excesses and unsubtle, unrelenting didacticism make it less enjoyable to watch.
Director: Radu Jude
Starring: Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Nicodim Ungureanu
Countries: Romania (filmed in Bucharest), Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Croatia, Switzerland, United Kingdom
Languages: Romanian, English, Czech, French, Russian, subtitled in English
Runtime: 106 minutes, although some U.S. screenings have had 20 minutes cut (for a total of 86 minutes), likely not the “excessive” parts we would cut
Awards: 4 wins, including the Berlin Golden Bear (Best Film) at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival, and 16 nominations