‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’: Film Review | Berlin 2021

Director Radu Jude’s Berlin competition contender ‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’ is a scathing social satire about sex, lies and videotape.

Opening with a very real-looking hardcore sex tape, and climaxing with a deranged orgy featuring super-sized dildos, Romanian writer-director Radu Jude’s latest taboo-busting polemical comedy is refreshingly untroubled by tasteful restraint. Shot during COVID lockdown last summer, with cast and crew all wearing anti-viral masks, the snappily titled Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is a scattershot attack on sexual hysteria and political hypocrisy in an era of online slut-shaming. The humor is broad, the satirical targets many, the overall effect mixed.

Partly inspired by real events, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn world premieres in competition this week at the online Berlinale, where Jude previously won the best director prize for Aferim! (2015). Formally daring as cinema, but disjointed and schematic as drama, the iconoclastic auteur’s ninth feature will divide viewers and critics with its tonally jarring mix of fact and fiction, explicit imagery, salty language, bawdy comedy and social commentary. Its critique of misplaced moral panic around sex instead of more pressing political issues will likely strike a more damning note in religiously conservative countries like Romania than elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

An uneven but enjoyably provocative pandemic polemic.


Even so, Jude remains a boldly original voice in modern European cinema, with serious things to say and increasingly adventurous ways of saying them. Already much garlanded at festivals, and with two official Oscar submissions in his portfolio, his track record should ensure Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn finds a discerning audience in film fest and art-house circles.

The star of the sex tape is schoolteacher Emi (Katia Pascariu). For the film’s opening chapter, shot in coolly observational docu-drama style, she wanders the sweltering streets of Bucharest under COVID lockdown, passing shuttered stores, empty offices and fading posters for cultural events that never happened. In a series of fraught phone calls, it transpires that the home-made porno clip Emi shot with her husband has somehow been uploaded onto the internet and gone viral. Named and shamed online, her job now hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, the city around her throbs with profanity, ugly flare-ups and four-letter showdowns. Obscenity is everywhere.

Jude pivots away from conventional narrative for the film’s second act, a quick-fire montage of horror and hypocrisy which he sardonically titles “a short dictionary of anecdotes, signs and wonders.” Skipping through Romanian history and folklore, this chapter yokes together countless examples of racism, antisemitism, sexism, child abuse, Communist-era corruption and fascist collaboration, including complicity in the Holocaust, a recurring motif in the director’s work. He also includes some shocking contemporary video clips: a bus driver violently attacking a Roma woman, a bullying boss berating his foreign workers as “peasants” and “animals” and so on.

Jude loops back to his main plot for the third act, which finds Emi fighting for her job during a stormy showdown with her fellow teachers, school governors and angry parents. Already verging on absurdist farce due to its masked protagonists and socially-distanced outdoor setting, this tense gathering soon escalates into full-blown surrealism as Emi defiantly stands up to a torrent of hypocrisy, stupidity, anti-vaccine conspiracy theory, accusations of “filthy Jewish propaganda” and worse. Jude comes close to breaking the fourth wall here, hinting at audience complicity in this show trial, before mischievously offering three alternative endings, including an orgiastic revenge fantasy worthy of vintage John Waters. It’s not subtle, but it is deliciously demented.

Behind its anarchic humor and unorthodox structure, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is an old-fashioned morality play about the true nature of obscenity. The message is simple and arguably banal, but one of the charms of Jude’s work is how he still believes in the power of cinema to provoke and challenge. Shunning the easy cop-out of post-modern irony, he remains a 20th century modernist at heart. Indeed, his barbed satirical tone frequently recalls the late 1960s peak of the Czech New Wave and the Yugoslavian “Black Wave” movement, which mingled sexually daring imagery with genuinely courageous criticism of repressive Communist regimes. That ingrained tradition of Eastern Bloc cynicism toward authority clearly lives on.

On one level, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is also a discursive essay-film thinly disguised as a saucy comic romp. Jude peppers his lurid montages and playful twists with somber quotes from Bertolt Brecht, Jean-Paul Sartre, Virginia Woolf, Isaac Babel, Walter Benjamin and others – mostly unattributed, though their names appear in the final credits. One key citation comes from film theorist and cultural critic Siegfried Kracauer: “We do not, and cannot, see actual horrors because they paralyze us with blinding fear.”

Jude clearly believes cinema has a sacred duty to show us these horrors, artfully couched in graphic sex and dark humor. It makes for a bumpy ride, audacious and witty in places, heavy-handed and disjointed in others. That said, any film that ends with cult Finnish singer MA Numminen singing the words of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein over a cheesy Europop melody is hardly in danger of taking itself too seriously.

Venue: Berlin International Film Festival (Competition)
Production company: microFILM Romania
Co-production companies: Paul Thiltges Distributions, Endorfilm, Kinorama
Cast: Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicodim Ungureanu, Alexandru Potocean
Director, screenwriter: Radu Jude
Producer: Ada Solomon
Cinematographer: Marius Panduru
Editor: Catalin Cristutiu
Production designer: Cristian Niculescu
Music: Jura Ferina, Pavao Miholjevic
Sales company: Heretic Outreach, ioanna@heretic.gr

106 minutes

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