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Review: “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” Offers A Memorably Irreverent Look at Taboos

Romanian director Radu Jude’s 2021 feature “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” holds little back in its artistic but realistic take on social taboos and outrage.

By , 20 Jan 22 00:10 GMT
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

One thing they don’t tell you about becoming a film critic is just how many bland and forgettable art house movies you’ll be asked to watch. Fortunately, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is not one of those films. While Bad Luck Banging is definitely art house, nobody can accuse it of being bland or forgettable. Instead, Romanian director Radu Jude holds nothing back in this irreverent—in both substance and style—exploration of outrage and the social taboos that either do or don’t spark it.

Kinky Sex in the Time of COVID

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

You’d be forgiven if you stumbled into this movie and wondered if you’ve accidentally clicked on some porn. True to its title, Bad Luck Banging starts with uncensored and uncut footage of some kinky sex. We soon learn that this is a homemade sex video from a teacher named Emi and her husband, both consenting adults simply doing what adults sometimes do. Unfortunately, the footage has leaked out onto the internet, putting Emi’s job at a prestigious school at risk.

There’s no hero’s journey or traditional narrative from here on out though. Instead, Bad Luck Banging proceeds with three distinct parts. The first shows a facemasked Emi roaming around Bucharest, chatting on the phone with her husband about the leak, and then encountering various quotidian moments of outrage through interactions like arguing with a driver blocking the sidewalk, or trying to buy a Xanax only to be denied.

Then, the film completely switches gears, filling its second section with archival and stock footage showing an eclectic variety of historical events and social phenomena—Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, blow jobs, Romanian folk dances modified for COVID, and so forth.

Finally, Bad Luck Banging’s final third depicts an outdoor (thanks to COVID social distancing rules) “trial” where parents from Emi’s school decide whether she should stay as a teacher given the sex tape leak. Without giving too much away, the trial goes in a…diverse…set of directions.

Loony but Real

Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

It’s hard to imagine Bad Luck Banging getting “mainstream” tracking, given its unadulterated depictions of sex and unconventional structure. However, that drives home the film’s purpose in examining the arbitrary yet very real boundaries between what’s considered taboo versus not, and therefore what generates outrage versus not. Is it fair that plenty of people will watch doggy-style sex on PornHub, yet will probably get on a moral high horse and object if it gets shown in the neighborhood theater in the introduction to a film like Bad Luck Banging? Probably not, but that’s the way the world works—and you could say it’s all rather loony.

Off kilter as it may be, Bad Luck Banging is one of the “realest” movies to come out in the last two years. Think of it this way: since the COVID-19 pandemic started, how many narrative fiction movies have you seen that actually depict everyday life during the pandemic? I’d assume quite few. Rather than face the absurdities of reality head on, it seems that people would much rather have escapism and the easy black-and-white happy endings of superhero movies.

Bad Luck Banging and Borat Subsequent Moviefilm stand out as the two most prominent Western examples (there are also Chinese COVID propaganda movies if that’s more your jam) which buck the trend to depict mask wearing, social distancing, and the like. In fact, Bad Luck Banging feels like a Romanian art-house cousin to Borat Subsequent Moviefilm. Both movies force audiences to confront real-life social taboos and outrage, though Bad Luck Banging is more intellectually rigorous, and obviously less America-centric, than Borat. On top of antisemitism, patriarchy, and COVID-19 critiques (all of which Borat Subsequent Moviefilm also contains), Bad Luck Banging also touches upon Romania’s role in WWII, the Ceaușescu regime, anti-Roma discrimination, and more. It quotes poetry and philosophy, and generally subverts distinctions between “lowbrow” and “highbrow.”

There’s a tendency in creative domains to see art as akin to a precious little infant meant to be coddled and quarantined away from the real world. It manifests as skittish PR agents crying “just ask about the art please!” when scheduling interviews with filmmakers, and filmmakers patting each other on the back on red carpets for making some beautiful but bland “art for art’s sake.” It’s the reason why so many art house movies are so damn boring and forgettable, and why a movie like Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn—which practically says “to hell with art for art’s sake”—is worth taking note of.

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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Romanian: Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc)—Romania. Dialog in Romanian. Directed by Radu Jude. First released 2 Mar 2021 at the Berlin International Film Festival. Running time 1hr 46min. Starring Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Mălai. 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn is currently screening in theaters across North America and streaming selectively online. Learn more here.

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