Dir: Radu Jude | Drama, Romania, Luxembourg, Czech Republic, Croatia 2021 | 106 min| Romanian | Cast: Katia Pescaru, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicoldim Ungureanu
The moral of Radu Jude’s latest film is simple: don’t put anything incriminating on film. But Bad Luck Banging addresses far wider concerns that its title suggests: hypocrisy, misogyny, tyranny, racism and of course sex are the elements of this intoxicating, indigestible cocktail – you may even feel sick by the end. If not, you’ll be left with a real mouthful to chew over. This thematically thorny Golden Bear winner is not for the timid, and unfolds in three distinct parts.
Known for his unbridled dramas, snide social satires and several sombre documentaries, the Romanian provocateur delivers a mordant social satire laced with his usual brand of dark and irreverent humour and set in a crumbling Bucharest. Jude describes his treatise as a sketchbook, a work in progress, an unedited collage of ideas. It’s demanding, aggressive and visually stimulating – and opens, appropriately, with a bout of raunchy sex, between school teacher Emi and her partner Eugen.
Emi, (Katia Pescariu, who ironically last played a nun in Beyond the Hills), finds her career at stake when a video of her carnal encounter, shared on an adult only porn site, ends up on the general Internet. Discovering her flirty faux-pas Emi flees through the streets of Bucharest. And this febrile odyssey fuels the film’s extensive second part which starts as an enlightening architectural tour of the centre, its crumbling facades and landmarks such as the Roman Orthodox cathedral and Nicolae Ceausescu’s Palace, but soon widens into an opportunity for the director to air his outspoken views on the state of the nation in a piquant pot-pourri of archive footage that reeks of subversion with its salacious snapshots and facts from the capital’s colourful past. These include Jewish and Roma atrocities, Orthodox Christian ceremonies, folklore and fables. As images flash before us – a row of pigs heads and a woman performing fellatio contrast with icons and ancient texts – and more or less anything the director could lay his hands on to back up his view that society as a whole is hypocritical, pornographic and deeply misanthropic.
The third act takes us back to Emi who must now face the music in a socially distanced kangaroo court of teachers, religious officials, random citizens, and a man in an unfeasibly large teacosy, who all watch the tape – some quite attentively (especially the males) before holding forth with their vehement views in raucous and melodramatic debate on the rights and wrongs of Emi’s behaviour, working up to the film’s over-excited finale. This is an exhausting film to watch, but one that presents Romanian society as intelligent, fervent in its beliefs and proud to stand by them. And although we never really get to know – or even like – Emi as a woman, she serves the narrative as a fearless self-determining female of the future who refuses to take things lying down. MT
NOW ON RELEASE | WINNER GOLDEN BEAR 2021