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Bad Luck Banging: A story of porn, privacy and the pandemic

Romanian director Radu Jude didn't let Covid get in the way of making his latest film. In fact, he turned it to his advantage.

Very definitely a film for the times: all the cast wear masks throughout Bad Luck Banging. Photo: Silviu Ghetie/Microfilm 2021.

In cases of emergency, you sometimes have to improvise. Last year, Radu Jude was poised to begin shooting his next film. Then the plague arrived.

Stewing in lockdown, he decided not to wait: as soon as restrictions loosened a bit, he gathered his cast and crew and set to work, taking the new normal in his stride. “I like adapting,” he says, shrugging at the practicalities. “It just gave some more challenges to solve.”

Rather than ignore the pandemic and its effects, the Romanian director took the view: “Let’s try to make it an advantage to the film.” So it is that his latest film is (most likely) the very first movie that takes place during Covid-19, with everyone masked up and the screen awash with hand sanitiser.

That’s not its only sign of immediacy: it’s hard to think of a more contemporary film, dealing as it does with issues of privacy, the internet and even “cancel culture”, as one character deals with her private life becoming all too public.

Let’s not be coy, she’s a teacher and she finds herself in hot water when a sex tape ends up online.

Hence the title: Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.

“I’m a filmmaker and I try to reflect what’s happening around me,” says Jude. “One of the topics that got my attention at some point was some news with this kind of story. It seemed to me a good topic.”

And not because he has a dirty mind. “The real story isn’t the porn video but what is around this, what’s behind this. The rights, the liberties, what is morality, what is obscenity. All these things get together in this small story,” he explains.

The video that causes all these problems opens the film – and very frank it is too. “I wanted to place the viewers in the position of someone knowing the video,” says Jude. “So they’re in a position to judge.”

Although leading lady Katia Pascariu was on set, Jude recruited porn actors for the more enthusiastic moments (although the “stud” apparently suffered problems of “tumescence”, which ought to make him think about his vocation).

But anyone who buys a ticket expecting a red-hot Euro romp will be disappointed. This is a film that turns its face from the obvious. Jude plays things straight at first, following the main character Emi (Pascariu) as she paces the be-masked streets of Bucharest, hinting at the problems she’s facing. Just as we get acclimatised to this, the rug is pulled from under us.

“The film is not only about the story about the porn tape but about all these values that a video like that puts into question: morality, hypocrisies, all these kinds of things,” says Jude, explaining why the second part veers off into such different territory. “I began collecting images and quotes, with no particular aim in mind,” he says of his research for the film.

As the themes became clearer, however, he decided not to waste his collection, compiling them into an on-screen “dictionary”; briefly abandoning the story for a bravura cinematic essay, an A-Z of misogyny, hypocrisy and other social ills. When that’s done, the story resumes and it’s time for the showdown as Emi faces her critics (in the open air, of course, as per Covid regulations).

Jude has sometimes been lumped in with the social realists of the Romanian New Wave movement (films such as 4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days and Police, Adjective) but this final stretch sees him abandoning strict realism for something more distinct.

“The third part is kind of a caricature, an exaggerated way to tell the story. [But] I always remember that Picasso used to say a caricature is not realistic but it is truthful.”

That’s very much what we get here. Emi’s offences go far beyond her tape: there is distress that she has been “indoctrinating” the impressionable minds of her pupils with stories of their country’s (enthusiastic) participation in the Holocaust – historically accurate but awkward for Romanian patriots.

We’re even offered a choice of endings: one happy, one sad and one that can’t be described without getting a visit from the spoiler police. But it’s either completely brilliant or utterly deranged. Or quite possibly both. (It might even be Jude’s attempt to impress Hollywood producers. “I’m open to anything. I like all kinds of films,” he says. “I made a living for many years directing television. I shot advertising for butter and toilet paper. I can do a Marvel movie.”)

Jude’s movie took top prize at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and deservedly so because it is quite wonderful, truthful, inventive and urgent. An essential film, and one likely to remain so even after we’ve consigned our masks to the drawer.

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