‘Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn’ is raunchy, candid portrayal of life during pandemic

Scene from the movie Bad Luck Banging
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Grade: 4.0/5.0

Around the start of “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn,” Emi (​​Katia Pascariu) is giving her husband, Eugen (Stefan Steel), a blowjob when her mom bangs on the door. “Don’t forget to fill my prescription. … Send (your daughter) to bed!” Emi, still occupied, takes a breather to tell her to bug off.  

That’s (some of) the banging. Here’s the bad luck. The couple keeps their sex tape on their computer for safekeeping, and an IT repair shop employee uploads it to Pornhub. Now it’s loony porn, and Emi’s middle school students have found it, soon provoking warped perceptions and character assassination from her students’ parents. 

The film, shot in Bucharest over summer 2020, builds to Emi’s looming meeting with the parents, held pandemic style: socially distanced in the school’s courtyard. This is not, however, the raunchy or outrageous film you might be expecting, full-frontal notwithstanding. It’s subtitled “a sketch of a popular film” for a reason: The film’s arc follows a day in the life of Emi as she runs errands, and writer-director Radu Jude’s camera wanders about. She goes to a grocery store, and the camera tracks her, then drifts off to an old grocer whose mask has slipped below his nose. Then it’s back to Emi, who tells a florist it’s arrogant to promise never to forget someone. She suggests, “We’ll try to never forget you.”

“Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn” follows this structure for a bit, where the camera catches Emi walking down the street, then splits off to the architecture, traffic and road rage. Epithets become greetings — COVID-19 pleasantries. It’s often the case that “Bad Luck Banging” uses Emi as a keyhole into life during the pandemic, where discussions blow into shouting matches and a sex tape becomes a forum for parents to air their frustrations. 

Yet the film’s pacing slowly trickles, which sounds pejorative. Jude’s interest in replicating the mood of the pandemic floods the film with candid observation. Though Emi herself is frantic (she walks so much!), Jude manages to slow the world around her. His camera is a bit lethargic, panning past everyday scenes with a documentary’s cadence. Jude manipulates tension so that, by Emi’s interrogation, the film is bristled with her stress.  

Yet Jude, a Romanian, isn’t satisfied with a film that is only about the pandemic. The filmmaker has a bone to pick with his home country. In a fascinating scene, Jude blends pandemic and polemic: Emi, waiting in line at a pharmacy, observes a man and an older woman debating the ethics of a celebrity who, in need of a transplant, was allowed to hop ahead of dying children. What better setting than healthcare to address corruption in Romania? For more, try last year’s excellent “Collective.” 

It’s in an experimental second act titled “a short dictionary of anecdotes, signs, and wonders” that Jude’s political ambitions open wide. It’s a montage, so there’s surely some cinema-as-revolutionary pontification, but the interlude is packed with self-aware irony. The film moves between past and present, prodding at Romania’s history. Jude turns to Romania’s Indigenous population (“Aborigines: Persons of little worth who burden the soil of newly discovered countries. They soon cease to burden; they fertilize”) with a bite aimed at Romania’s corrupt systems.  He cuts between military oppression and irony, people and systems — such as the Romanian Orthodox Church, which, “closer to all dictators,” shut its doors on revolutionaries seeking shelter — with a provocateur’s grace. 

Just as quickly as he turned to montage, Jude switches back to the narrative. As Emi takes her seat in front of the parents, it’s all on Pascariu to maintain the audience’s attention from behind her mask. Her face becomes a wasteland of exhaustion and frustration, anxiety and anger. All the while, Jude has set up a crossfire of questions about online privacy, mansplaining, class and cancel culture. And, of course, whether producing a sex tape reflects love or lunacy.

Contact Dominic Marziali at [email protected].