Film review: ‘Bad Luck Banging’ asks the question of what’s obscene

Romanian director offers a prize-winning look at hypocrisy


The Austin Film Society is known for its eclectic, sometimes avant-garde programming. “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” will rank right up there with the most eclectic.

It’s from Romanian writer-director Radu Jude, who doesn’t have a whole lot of reverence for the history and politics of his homeland.

The setup for his latest is quite explicit. Amid the pandemic lockdown, a married woman and man in Bucharest make a sex tape. It ends up on online.

The woman is a high school teacher, Emi, (Katia Pascariu), and she vigorously performs oral sex on her husband. Whips, too, are involved. Closeups of intercourse are featured. The sex is not simulated. It’s real. And this is just the first few minutes of “Bad Luck Banging.”

Fast forward a few days, and the parents and other assorted folks and administrators at Emi’s school are outraged — or at least feign it. That’s the first act of the film, which has three clearly stated acts, plus three possible endings.

The second act is more like a montage, with vignettes and archival footage from the reign of Ceausescu, the former president who ordered the military to open fire on protesters in 1989. (This led to what’s known as the Romanian Revolution, the violent overthrow of a communist dictator). This, of course, presumes some knowledge of Romanian politics on the part of the viewer. Then again, it’s rather apparent that Jude is showing these images to mock all parts of society, including the Romanian Orthodox Church.

The third act takes place in a courtyard, where parents have gathered to discuss Emi’s porn video. Emi sits at a table up front, with the school’s administrator overseeing the forum.

Parents hurl slurs at Emi. They say she’s a slut. They say she has damaged the psyches of their children, who have viewed the video on their iPhones. They say she’s a pervert. Many of the parents who want Emi removed are blatantly anti-Semitic.

Everyone is wearing a mask. Emi’s facial responses have to be interpreted, since she’s wearing a mask, too. But she has a few words to sling back at her detractors — mainly that they are hypocrites, that the leaking of the video was an accident, that it was consensual sex between her and her husband.

Jude intersperses all of this talk with wildly silly noises at various points, possibly someone’s cell phone going off during the discussions.

In essence, “Bad Luck Banging” can be seen as a satire — comparing a banal sex video to the obscenities of recent history.

“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” won the top prize, the Golden Bear, at the Berlin Film Festival. It opens Dec. 17 at the Austin Film Society Cinema,

Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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