Movie Review: Romania satirizes itself in “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn”

Wherever film satire has traveled in the past half century, there’s something seriously retrograde in Rada Jude’s film festival darling “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.”

I wracked my memory banks while watching it, trying to summon up a film to compare its random, randy combination of cultural commentary and low comedy to. All I could come up with is the infamous “WR: Mysteries of the Organism,” a satiric 1971 docu-comedy from Yugoslavia, and “Kentucky Fried Movie,” a hilariously vulgar 1977 sketch comedy with social commentary in its sophomoric content.

But what else could be analogous to a movie that uses a teacher’s home sex video, uploaded to the internet, and her “trial” by school parent-teacher committee for it as a scorched earth slapdown of national hypocrisy?

What other recent film has abandoned its story for a middle act titled “A Short Dictionary of Anecdotes, Signs and Wonders?” That’s a long, random-seeming interlude of short snippets of historical footage (WWII genocide and the day Romania switched from Nazi-backing to Stalin-loving), a taste of (dictator) Ceaucescu, animation, a present-day choir of nuns singing a fascist anthem to an approving, elderly Romanian Orthodox priest alongside a quick history of how the church has “always backed dictators,” as has the army. There’s a brief history of pornography, shots of Romanian redneckery’s lifted pickups, that infamous leaked footage of the U.S. airstrike-on-journalists footage in Iraq, video of oral sex and other “wonders” described in deadpan text aimed at making larger points about about modern times and modern life.

So yes, it’s a trifle hard to categorize. It has a light-enough tone that you feel it’s aiming for laughs, but those are few and far between. At least the message is clear, no matter how much meandering goes on as it’s being delivered.

“Bang” begins with a bang — the “sex tape” in question, a married couple going up, down and over-the-top in a sort of role-playing “porn star” romp in the boudoir, which they’re videoing. The WWII torch song “Lili Marlene” plays on the stereo, a relative keeps interrupting with childcare concerns and things start explicit and only grow more so.

We then jump to Emi (Katia Pascariu), an accomplished history teacher at an exclusive school, and see her grueling day of dealing with that video getting out. It even reached PornHub, at one point.

Writer-director Jude (“The Happiest Girl in the World,” “Scarred Hearts”) tracks her as she eggs on her husband’s efforts to get the video pulled (how it got online has a couple of explanations) by phone. She visits an open air market to buy flowers to flatter a possible ally in her “hearing” that night. She copes with traffic, sexual harassers, checkout line meltdowns and belligerent motorists, all on foot.

And as she walks, she and we overhear (in Romanian with English subtitles) snippets of mostly-masked conversations full of innuendo, rumor and ignorance — “It’s scientifically proven incense prevents cancer!”

Everybody is quick to curse as they complain about each other, about the government and an “organ donation” scandal. An older woman grumps that “No one ever got COVID from a Eucharist spoon.” Another walks straight up to the camera and drops the C-word directly to the viewing audience.

The mirror Jude holds up to his Borat-ish homeland and the portrait he presents for foreigners is never, for one second, flattering. We see decaying Soviet bloc housing, haphazard construction and anarchic traffic, overgrown, untended trees and shrubbery. And then there are the angry, short-tempered, broke, backward, blundering, gauche, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic people who probably have a lot more to worry about than whether their kids are accessing the same porn of their teacher than they are.

The factoid-packed middle act “explains” Romania via history, culture, physical examples (elevator doors in a nice building decorated with a “Doggie Style” couple), polls and the like.

The film’s third act returns to Emi’s plight with a long, nasty debate about her status at the school as parents judge and humiliate her and she tries to use her knowledge of history and privacy rights to fend them off.

There’s a universality to the messaging in the film that has become Romania’s submission for Best International Feature in this year’s Oscar competition (fat chance). People’s prejudices have come out into daylight in much of the world in the past few years, and a global pandemic didn’t push them back into the shadows.

Jude’s long line of snippets about Romanian attitudes about rape, examples of public homophobia, statements from historical figures about “robotic warfare” and Jesus, oral sex and the like enliven but don’t necessarily entertain or illuminate the simpler through-line story. I found that middle-act interlude heavy-handed and the jokey “three possible outcomes” for the film that Jude toys with clumsy, although it does deliver the film’s funniest (an anti-Semite’s “A-HA! moment).

Once we’ve heard from the virulently anti-Semitic soldier-parent (Nicodim Ungureanu), the shrill, rich Romanian “Karen” (Olimpia Malai) and the misogynistic, ultra-conservative anti-mask airline pilot (Andi Vasluianu) shout that masks are “the muzzle of slaves,” we get the point.

Rating: Unrated, explicit sex, racism, homophobia and profanity

Cast: Katia Pascariu, Claudia Ieremia, Olimpia Malai, Nicodim Ungureanu and Andi Vasluianu

Credits: Scripted and directed by Rada Jude. A Magnolia release.

Running time: 1:46

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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