There are a few warnings I should get out of the way before reviewing Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.
1. There are several very graphic sex scenes which, if you are prudish about those sorts of things, will definitely make you uncomfortable. But, if you are truly prudish, you would not be watching a film with “Banging” and “Porn” in the title. Moving on.
2. For those who like their films, or their art for that matter, tidily organized into highbrow and lowbrow categories so as to make appropriate choices, Bad Luck will throw off your taxonomy.
3. If you are into minimalist storytelling, do not bother with Bad Luck; it is maximalist to the nth degree.
Having done my due diligence, let me get right to my assessment of Bad Luck. In one word: Wow! Having seen and reviewed many films—quite a few of them very good films—I am rarely this blown away. This is film at its boldest, its brashest, its most avant-garde. It is art at its most erudite in terms of social commentary and its most absurd in terms of its analysis of the human condition. Films like Bad Luck push the medium forward, open possibilities, they remind you that there are still directors out there with a truly distinct voice. Romanian director Radu Jude (I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians) reminds one of Pasolini or von Trier at their most transgressive while diving into an even deeper dark humor hole than those two ever dared plunged into.
Bad Luck is divided into chapters. The first chapter puts us in the middle of a local scandal involving Emi (Katia Pascariu), a secondary school history teacher, who has a private sex video posted on public porn sites. The video spreads and is watched by her school superiors, colleagues, parents, and students. A parent-teacher conference—that plays out in the third chapter as more of a witch trial than anything—will decide Emi’s professional fate. In chapter one we see Emi walking through Bucharest—shot in cinema verité style–running errands before her parent-teacher meeting, dealing with her society’s deteriorating sense of decency, its crassness, and the alarming consumerism that has become the status quo of most cities in advanced late capitalist societies. Jude is holding up a mirror to the ugliness in his society, a mirror that reflects a Medusa so frightening that it turns others into apathetic stones incapable of striving for a different world. Emi tries to maintain her dignity in the midst of such social decay while her private life has been exposed while her job hangs in the balance while dealing with COVID-19 social distancing and masks—it is stress layered upon stress layered upon stress.
Chapter one would be more than enough story content for any film, but for Jude it is mere story exposition. Chapter two blows out of the water any expectations one may have had for the rest of the film. Chapter two unleashes a montage of historical footage, clever cultural critique, and mentions of historical atrocities and hypocrisies aimed at societies offended by sex videos but not by their blood-stained histories—the United States comes to mind. There are even more shots fired at consumerism—we are shown a drawing of the French Revolution and then shown a box of doughnuts named after the historical event. Each chapter is shot in a different style and has its own distinct narrative flow. Each chapter could be a film onto its own. The final chapter even offers the viewer three different endings. It is as if Jude is showing off his skill, his masterly flourishes, his bravura as a director. When you are this good a filmmaker, you should be allowed to show off. In Jude’s case, the audience is all the more rewarded by such smugness.
Bad Luck deservedly won the Golden Bear for best film at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. A film packing so many ideas demands repeated viewings. One can spend hours discussing Jude’s camera pans and how they come to rest on billboards, graffiti murals, advertisements, a book on Jesus, a flower emerging out of a crack on the concrete, naked statues on a building—this last one can spur a side conversation on the contradictions involving nudity, art, and porn. There are commentaries on individuals parking on sidewalks and the breakdown of social norms. As if that were not enough, Jude comments on the treatment of Roma people and COVID-19. And oh, wait, there is even an amazing discussion on the role of memorization in pedagogy—it sounds like a dry topic for a film, but believe me, it is not! Is Bad Luck a film for a select few? Yes, it is. I urge those select few to seek it out. Filmmaking like this is rare.
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