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review

Katia Pescariu plays Emilia in Radu Jude's latest film, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.Courtesy of Mongrel Media

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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

Written and directed by Radu Jude

Starring Katia Pascariu

Classification N/A; 106 minutes

Opens in Montreal and Vancouver theatres Nov. 26


Critic’s Pick


Unless something remarkably upsetting happens over the next five weeks (not impossible), there won’t be a more furious, confrontational, blood-boiling film this year than Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Ignore, if you can, the faux-wacky title: Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude’s work is not juvenile prurience but intellectual lunacy. It is spitting mad stuff, meaning that it occasionally froths at the mouth. But who hasn’t nearly choked on some aerosol droplets lately?

True to its again-very-bad title, Jude’s film opens with three minutes of hard-core pornography. More accurately, it’s a clip from a homemade sex tape made by primary school teacher Emilia (Katia Pascariu) and her husband, the latter of whom shows everything onscreen except his face. The footage might be shocking if you’ve never, ever had sex or looked at a biology textbook, but otherwise it’s tame, even sweet stuff. The real problem arises when the video somehow ends up online – several conflicting excuses are offered – forcing Emilia to face a reckoning from her employer.

Divided into three parts, Jude’s film is a wonderfully unhinged experiment in cinematic anger-management. The first section follows Emilia at a distance as she goes about Bucharest running various errands, with Jude capturing generous long takes of city life to document a populace at its breaking point. Everyone is frustrated by the pandemic, sure – the film was shot in the summer of 2020, though conceived before; the result is one of COVID-era filmmaking’s few happy accidents – but it’s more than masks riling up Romania. In Jude’s view, there is a deep, cultural sickness ailing his nation, a disease that has more or less become endemic.

This point is further underlined, or maybe highlighted with the brightest yellow marker that you will ever find, when Jude devotes the second chunk of his film to an A-to-Z glossary of Romanian words and concepts, the assembled montages ranging from ribald to grotesque. Finally, the last third focuses on the open-air inquisition of Emilia at her school’s courtyard, where she’s berated by her headmistress and a group of parents representing the ignorant, racist, morally corrupt symbols of Romanian authority.

It was both a surprise and a relief when, this past February, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn won the top award at the 2021 Berlin International Film Festival. There is almost zero chance that this film escapes the festival or art-house circuit to become a mainstream cultural artifact – its sexually explicit material all but guarantees it – but Jude’s work is an almost profound act of high-wire lampoonery that deserves to be seen and debated far and wide. Think of Adam McKay (Vice, The Big Short), but without the condescension.

Jude stares at the history of Romania like a man facing off against an abyss. But when it inevitably stares back, the filmmaker, and his audience, find a chasm whose darkness is not geopolitically tethered to the Balkans, to Europe, or to any region or culture at all. Its ugliness is all of us, all the time. For those with a strong stomach, the film makes an excellent double bill with last year’s little-seen documentary Collective, which also painted a picture of contemporary Romanian culture, its reek only slightly more odious than that of North America’s – and only because we’re already so used to the smell.

At the moment, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is only scheduled to be open theatrically this week in Vancouver and Montreal – there are no Toronto dates scheduled, though other Canadian cities may be added throughout the winter. Hopefully Jude himself doesn’t hear word of that dispiritingly small-scale release. There’s no telling how angry the filmmaker can get.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a Critic’s Pick designation across all coverage.

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