NYFF Review: 'Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn' Delivers Laughs to Keep from Crying Directed by Radu Jude

Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Mălai, Nicodim Ungureanu, Alexandru Potocean, Andi Vasluianu, Ion Dichiseanu
NYFF Review: 'Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn' Delivers Laughs to Keep from Crying Directed by Radu Jude
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If you throw it on at home, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn's bawdy opening may make you wonder if you opened the wrong browser tab. Told in three distinct acts, each introduced by nauseatingly pretty Barbie-pink and white title cards, the first is most akin to the Romanian New Wave that director Radu Jude is associated with. We follow Emi (Katia Pascariu), a history teacher in Bucharest, going about her daily to-do list as if it were any other day. In the background of this mundanity, the sex video she and her husband made⁠ — and that he posted online⁠ — has been uploaded to more websites and students' parents are starting to get wind of it. The camera lingers on the streets long past the point that Emi leaves the frame, sticking our nose into the juxtapositions inherent in the environment rather than anything directly related to the narrative: the plastered advertisements are like Band-Aids over broken buildings, sometimes unclear if they were abandoned since the pandemic or if they've been that way for decades. A clumsy capitalist collage unfolds purposefully on the street and screen.

Lest you think this is a contemplative slow cinema train ride, suddenly an old woman passing by turns, looks into the camera, smiles, and says something that translates to "eat my cunt." In another scene, as we pan away from Emi, a car slams into someone crossing the street. It is unclear what is staged and what is improvisation, with uncertainty playing out before our eyes, fiction and documentary churning together in these moments and making apparent the absurdity of the times in which we live. When Emi gets into a brief altercation with a guy over parking, he yells, "Fuck your broke ass"⁠ — a message that resonates loud and clear from every crack of concrete that makes up this modern hellscape.

An A-Z montage of a selected history of Romania sharply introduces part two⁠ — a barrage of irony and satire covering the often racist, sexist, homophobic and universally familiar brutality and hypocrisy that is swept under the rug. The rapid-fire critiques made up of image and text would make Adam Curtis envious, and they provide both the context for part one and the setup for part three.

Presented as a kiss-off to end all arguments, the final section has the parents deciding Emi's fate inside the school courtyard, amidst gaudy, mismatched decorations as if in an awkward play. The parents represent every caricature imaginable on your hypothetical Facebook feed, from a nationalist army general to a philosophical leftist wearing an "Enjoy Capitalism" shirt in Coca-Cola font, each veering off into expected tangents. Mostly, they argue about Emi's behaviour and body as if she wasn't there, the cartoonishness of the situation punctuated by a man laughing like Woody the Woodpecker throughout the "debate".

The film knows that treating historical horrors and social ills as jokes will make them go down easier, and the ending(s) make sure to tell us several times that it was exactly that. Like the opening, the finale explodes in a pornographic violence that perfectly bookends the film.

For all its cleverness, I wish the film would apply the same level of consideration to nudity. If you criticize the treatment of women, especially their bodies, afford them the same level of anonymity when showing their bodies as you do the men. Still, in this fantasy of telling everyone off, one would be hard-pressed to find a good retort — Jude is having the last laugh.

The 2021 New York Film Festival runs from September 24 to October 10. Get info at the festival website. (Magnolia)