Film Reviews

BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN Forced Lincoln Center to Watch Full Penetration Sex, So A+

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If you are looking for a polite review of a polite film meant for polite society, turn back now; you have been warned. With a title like BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN, what sane person would expect politeness? You knew exactly what you were getting into when you clicked the title, naughty reader, so slip into something more comfortable. Lincoln Center audiences had their feathers ruffled right from the very beginning when Radu Jude’s Golden Bear winning film opened with a tape featuring unsimulated, enthusiastic, mildly kinky consensual sex between Emi Cilibiu (Katia Pascariu), a history teacher at an elite private middle school, and her husband Eugen (Stefan Steel). Emi’s sex tape is leaked, and her students (being kids with Internet access) find it, so their parents are pissed and demand her resignation. The headmistress (Claudia Ieremia) calls for a socially distanced, in-person meeting to discuss Emi’s future at the school, giving Emi a chance to defend herself against the angry, puritanical crowd, a la The Scarlet Letter. Bad luck, indeed!

Described as a “sketch for a popular film,” Jude pokes fun at traditional dramatic structure by dividing the film into three parts. The first sequence is shot cinema verite style, following Emi around Bucharest as she anxiously runs errands before her big trial. Jude’s camera wanders from Emi, instead interested in the inescapably consumerist and often highly sexualized nature of advertising all around the city, like a model deepthroating an ice cream pop. The slogan? “I like it deep.” Two super beefed up, half-naked guys spar in an ad for a gym. Polite society has deemed these images safe for public consumption because they serve just the purpose of selling a product. “Sex sells” is a decades old mantra in advertising, and somehow there has not yet been a witch hunt against the ad men for the images they push on children every day, at least not yet. What society considers vulgar or acceptable is a completely arbitrary decision at the whim of wealth-hoarding individuals with good manners and good taste.

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The second sequence is the least conventional, a video essay within Emi’s narrative. Although it is disorienting, it also has some of the funniest moments in the whole film. Jude uses this section to make note on every topic under the sun, from selfies to the Holocaust through jokes and anecdotes told over a collage of documentary footage. Jude’s past films have studied historical events with a watchful eye, such as AFERIM!’s examination of 19th century Wallachia, or I DO NOT CARE IF WE GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS BARBARIANS’ exploration of that very statement, made by the Council of Ministers in 1941. What marks BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN as a departure from these films is Jude turning his detail oriented eye from the past to the present. What he finds is as deeply comic as it is deeply tragic; Jude recounts the joke about a man who cannot move his arm, but the doctor finds nothing physically wrong with him. One day, the doctor shouts “Heil Hitler!” and the man’s arm shoots up in a perfect salute: he is cured. 

The third sequence is a highly stylized sitcom depicting the polarizing meeting at Emi’s school, with three separate endings. The point is not whether or not Emi gets to keep her job, or whether or not she deserves to; as in life, there is no point. It’s all one big, absurd joke. Adults act like the children they claim to be crusading for as they make sure all of their individual voices are heard on the matter. Of course, no one wants to take responsibility for any potential harm done to their children, never mind that Emi wasn’t the one who leaked the tape, or gave the kids smartphones, or invented the cyberspace hellscape we’re all trapped in that could drag any of us down at any moment. Everyone wants to lay blame onto someone else, so that they can remain the victim within their own personal narrative: main character syndrome drawn out to its only logical conclusion. 

Jude was inspired to make BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN after reading a story similar to Emi’s in a tabloid, and realizing he could use it as a Trojan horse for his myriad questions about the hypocrisy of modern polite society. This is not to say that Jude imposes his own personal beliefs or messages upon the viewer, no, he flits from reflections on sex education, to Romania’s involvement in the Holocaust, to morality, and more, at frightening speeds, not unlike scrolling through your Twitter timeline. More a series of sketches than a fully formed narrative with a beginning, middle, and end, Jude acts as a Marlowe-like detective, guiding the audience through the loosely connected historical threads and grasping at the age-old, unsolvable question: how the hell did we end up here? A less researched, less darkly funny filmmaker may not have been able to pull it off with such indecent humor. 

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At times, the film veers into a more divided liberal vs. conservative debate, especially regarding COVID-19 discourse; let’s just say I am glad this film was made before Jude could include debates about vaccines, which are already as tired now as mask-wearing discourse was a year ago. When the pandemic hit while he was writing the film, Jude incorporated it. Not unlike the pandemic, the film highlights social ills that have been growing more severe every year. Emi’s neighbors grow increasingly frustrated with each other at the supermarket, have philosophical arguments at the pharmacy, and are always asking each other to please, for God’s sake, pull their damn masks up. People wear their masks, or they don’t, but for the most part, everyone goes about their days as normally as possible (at least for now), the thought of potential death hanging in the background air. 

A story from the second sequence articulates Jude’s perspective on the purpose of cinema—over a montage of cars driving in the snow, he tells the story of Athena sending Perseus to slay Medusa. Athena advises Perseus to never look into Medusa’s face because he would turn to stone; instead, he is to look into the reflection of her face on his shield as he cuts off her head. Jude proposes that the cinema is not a mirror held up to tell the audience about themselves, rather, humanity needs the cinema screen to act as the reflection on Perseus’ shield because staring into the face of Medusa is too unbearable. We cannot handle looking directly at the horrors of history and how they lead us to our present moment, so we visit the cinema instead. BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN is this reflection in kaleidoscope, each fragment bouncing off the next, constantly shifting perspective.

Katarina Docalovich
Katarina Docalovich is your average overly educated, under-employed Brooklyn transplant who takes film photos, talks too much about the French New Wave, and goes to the movies 3 times a week.

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