Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn (Cert 18)

Theatrical (Distributor: Sovereign Film Distribution) Running Time: 108 minutes approx.

Apparently, the most searched term on the internet in Romania is “blowjob” followed by “empathy”. I wouldn’t normally delve into the unlikelihood of there being a connection between the two and if there is, it would no doubt be an esoteric and ironic one, which Romanian director Radu Jude may have found.

Secondary school history teacher Emi Cilibiu (Katia Pascariu) is mortified to learn her husband Eugen (Stefan Steel) had uploaded a private sex tape they made to an internet porn site, which someone had downloaded and has inevitably made its way into the hands of her students. The parents are angry and have forced the school headmistress (Claudia Ieremia) to call a debate to discuss Emi’s sacking.

Describing Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn as a bold film is an understatement; to call it obtuse and unconventional is stating the obvious, yet its connection to the audience rests on both of these traits. It marches to its own rhythms and will prove befuddling for that reason, yet would have less to discuss and ponder if it ran a straight narrative.

Jude is cynically dissecting the hypocrisy of modern society when it comes to matters of controversy where grey areas and nuance raise more questions than answers. He may be localising this to his native Romania but the general issue under discussion will travel beyond these borders. In his own unique way, Jude presents a case of trial by morality, where blaming someone else is easier that taking responsibility for one’s actions.

Opening with a literal bang, the first 10 minutes of the film is the aforementioned sex tape in all its explicit and uncensored glory. Quite how the BBFC let this go uncut when they regulate real porn with stricter guidelines is ironically meta given the hypocrisy theme. But I digress. We may not know it but the masked woman in the video is the same smartly dressed 40-something we see walking down the street moments later.

Emi is traversing the city to buy a present for her ill child, whilst conducting numerous phone conversations about the sex tape, her absence from work, and other issues. During this segment, Jude focuses on the environment as much as he does Emi, showing examples of how much sex is a part of our daily lives, like innuendo laden posters exploiting women to sell something innocuous.

Along the way, Emi encounters many people who are rude or inconsiderate, getting into a verbal spat with a man who refuses to move his parked van from off the pavement, forcing a woman with a pram to walk into the road to get around him. In essence, Jude is holding a mirror up to modern Romania – or indeed any society – to show how far we have fallen as close knit, friendly communities, preferring to think of ourselves first.

For the second chapter, Jude throws out the rulebook, and the story so far, to present an A to Z of things Romania and other countries are guilty of in the name of hypocrisy. It is understandable if this loses many viewers, not just for wilfully abandoning convention but also for being an arcane gallery of disparate Python-esque imagery. Yet it is driven by a caustic commentary delineating the notion that the history we have been taught to honour and be proud of means nothing if we abuse its memory.

Consolidating these ideas into practice, the third chapter covers the disciplinary meeting, as Emi stands alone before a lynch mob of forthright and disapproving parents, with only the headmistress as impartial support. Jude forgoes the subtlety of the previous chapters here as the very nub of his gist needs to be laid out as plainly as possible, and he couldn’t be blunter if he tried.

The pervasive attitude is Emi should be sacked for corrupting her teenage students and the distress she caused the parents. The fact she didn’t make the video for public consumption nor did she upload it to the internet is irrelevant. Equally off the table is the parents not monitoring the viewing habits of their own kids, or being adult enough to explain to them about porn and sex.

Meanwhile, one parent, an ex-army general believes Emi has desecrated the memories of the country’s military, even accusing Emi of not teaching the “correct” history when she teaches both good and bad. This would be the same general who also shouts out innuendo to get a laugh, like the priest who is oddly conversant in the slang terms for sex acts, just one of many whose chaste outrage becomes invalidated as the discussion becomes more intimately detailed.

We end up sharing Emi’s frustration at the pious, blinkered accusations of the parents, and their inability to appreciate the damage this has caused her, just because there is a juicy scandal for them to get irate over. But because the audience will automatically be on Emi’s side, the lack of balance is essentially countered by the overarching theme of rampant and blatant hypocrisy by way of framing the parents’ viewpoint.

I won’t reveal Emi’s fate because Jude offers three different endings, each one valid – sort of – but get the point across all the same, so we can’t complain about how this is brought to its conclusion. Something else Jude does here which few other filmmakers have is to embrace the current COVID situation, with the cast all wearing masks when called to, and social distancing is observed, adding a taste of realism to this often absurd outing.

No doubt the consensus would be Jude could have presented a more compelling case had he followed a conventional drama format, but then the delightful title Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn would have been wasted on anodyne moral posturing. It won’t be for everyone but Jude’s vision is more down to earth than it seems and its vital, incisive bite cuts deep to boot. Weird but wonderful.

Rating – *** ½ 

Man In Black