A teacher comes under fire for a sex tape in Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, the Berlin Film Festival competition entry from Romanian writer-director Radu Jude (Aferim!). We first meet Emi (Katia Pascariu) when she is engaged in graphic sex with her husband, who’s filming an amateur video. She’s wearing a feline eye mask, and then a pink wig. For the rest of the film, she is dressed in a bland grey suit and a medical face mask. Like many Berlin features, this was made during the pandemic, and the cast typically wears masks. This Covid era lends additional tension as Emi goes about her day, running errands while trying to minimize the damage done by the video, which was put online and is now being shared by pupils.
The first part of three acts, entitled “One Way Street,” plays out almost in real time as we watch Emi in Bucharest, most of the dialogue coming from incidental background characters. Nothing is accidental here: this is about setting the stage for an explosive final act. A man dressed as a sailor cat-calls Emi, saying, “Sweet lady, I’m here to fill your sails.” Young people banter, pointing out that studying science prevented Japanese students from being used as kamikaze pilots (humanities were considered disposable). In a street market, an elderly woman comes up to the camera and says, “Eat my c***.” Another, queuing at the pharmacy, spouts superstitious religious theories: “It’s scientifically proven that incense combats cancer… No one got Covid from the ecclesiastical spoon.”
This is a world where misinformation spreads as rapidly as a sense of righteousness — or indeed, an infectious disease. It’s a sexist, prejudiced, irritable, scared world. It’s also a funny one. There are dark laughs around every corner as Jude delivers his scathing indictment on modern-day Romania.
The political history of the country is also referred to in snatched conversations, and more heavily in the second act, entitled: “Short Dictionary Of Anecdotes, Signs, And Wonders.” On the face of it, this is the weakest act: it’s composed of swift clips and quotes and stats laid over striking imagery. They’re disturbing and fascinating, but it’s an overwhelming barrage of information. “Six out of 10 Romanian children are subjected to family violence,” goes one shocking statistic. “[Blowjob]: the most looked-up word in the Online Dictionary…. The second is ‘empathy’,” is another.
The latter fact — if it is indeed one — stays with you in the third act, an absurd and excruciating farce in which Emi is subjected to what is effectively a trial. Amid the statues in the grand garden of a school that considers itself highly prestigious, Emi sits at the front while a group of parents debates whether or not she should remain employed. A head teacher is moderating, but somehow fails to prevent a mother from showing the entire leaked video to the group. Masked faces creep closer to the screen, leering, tutting and making innuendos as Emi sits, looking straight ahead, her eyes just short of rolling. It’s deeply uncomfortable and revealing: here is a prurient, hypocritical group who think nothing of prying into a teacher’s private life on the school grounds, yet claim shock and dismay that their adolescent children have been doing the same thing. It’s a gripping courtroom scene that leaves you begging for a rational argument that may or may not come. It is now clear that the second act was also setting the scene.
Bad Luck Banging is a tonally uneven watch, set in a messy, confused place where incidental characters range from the convincing to the surreal. It inflicts the information overload it depicts in an almost sadistic fashion. But it’s also thought-provoking, well performed and states its case remarkably clearly, given the amount of dildos on display. I liked it.