REVIEW: Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc [Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn] [2021]

Rating: 7 out of 10.
  • Rating: NR | Runtime: 106 minutes
    Release Date: 2021 (Romania) / November 19th, 2021 (USA)
    Studio: Micro Multilateral / Magnolia Pictures
    Director(s): Radu Jude
    Writer(s): Radu Jude

It’s never anyone’s fault.


Did Emilia (Katia Pascariu) and Eugen (Stefan Steel, although we see little beyond his penis) purposefully upload the sex tape that opens Radu Jude‘s bold satire Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc [Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn]? I think we should assume they did. That doesn’t, however, mean they meant for it to be circulated beyond the niche fetish site to which it published. She’s a respected history teacher at a prestigious middle school and thus beholden to certain morality clauses that would deem pornographic material grounds for dismissal. So, Emilia blames her husband when the headmistress (Claudia Ieremia) asks for clarity now that her twelve-year-old students (and most of their parents) have viewed the tape. And she agrees to an informal trial to settle her fate.

This is her day of reckoning told in three chapters. The first sees Emilia biding time, walking around to fulfill errands and prepare herself for the parent/teacher witch-hunt to come. I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that Jude filmed this entire section documentary style, setting his camera up to catch his actor via slow pans that then continue in the other direction once she’s off-screen. Sometimes he catches hyper-tense altercations like that of two grocery customers yelling about how the one’s poverty is wasting the other’s time. Sometimes random people walk up to the camera, look straight at the lens, and swear into it. We also catch intentional glimpses of highly sexualized billboards and sculptures to set the stage for the slut-shaming misogyny that we know awaits us.

The second chapter is a twenty-minute or so visual collage of seemingly innocuous anecdotes and terms portrayed in comically biting ways. We’ve already watched Emilia and Eugen having sex, so some of these vignettes being “blowjob” and “live cam” is hardly sensational in context. The juxtaposition of watching an example of each integrated amongst magazine covers with Benito Mussolini and history lessons of Romania’s ties to the Holocaust remains jarring, nonetheless. That’s the point, though. Jude is forcing us to confront political, historical, and cultural hypocrisy in caustically absurd ways, preparing us for just how bigoted and off-topic the dialogue will be between Emilia’s pragmatic idealist and the mob of sanctimonious, figurative-pitchfork-carrying parents seeking absolution from blame for their crucial part in this prudishly overblown charade.

It was a bit tough to get through that middle third—not because the subject matter wasn’t captivating or energetically displayed, but because it’s a long time to be removed from the characters we were told to invest in. After following Emilia around for a half hour in generally quiet and voyeuristic fashion, we’re yanked right out of the proceedings for what’s more akin to an external, complementary lecture than a natural narrative progression. And that’s Jude’s choice. He’s got a lot to say and COVID’s impact upon Romanian life (which is represented very similarly to how America’s Trump-led fascistic GOP handled its response) has given him the passionate fervor with which to do so. He’s mocking his fellow citizens and calling them out before mercilessly denigrating them.

The latter act is the film’s best because it brings together everything put on-screen up until then. Everything we’ve seen has been as bad or worse than Emilia daring to film consensual sexual activities with her husband and yet it’s dismissed as advertising and education. The moment a familiar face is put upon the supposedly lewd acts, however, it suddenly becomes unforgiveable. How dare Emilia expose their children to her pornographic proclivities. How dare she force these parents to have to speak with their sons and daughters about anything more than demanding good grades so they can brag to friends that their kid went to a good high school. They’re all telling on themselves and Emilia, being the smartest person in the room, ensures they know.

As anyone who’s lived these past two years thinking themselves crazy for believing our bare minimum job is to empathize with our fellow man by wearing a damn mask to help save them understands, however, logic and grace are meaningless in the face of loudly boorish ignorance. The moment Emilia arrives, she’s put on the defensive. The headmistress is on her side (if a majority of the parents allow her to be since autonomy in this case proves nonexistent when privatization render profits paramount to sense) and offers her the desk chair at the front of the courtyard where this outside meeting has been convened. A parent yells that she’s lost the privilege of a desk. Another stands to screen the sex tape on her iPad.

What ensues is a bad-faith debate wherein the parents do all they can to blame Emilia, call her a whore, and be otherwise disruptive throughout the entire process. Some come to her defense (less out of compassion and more to flex their own superiority for having a cooler head), reading from “expert” findings as though the rest of the moms and dads could ever be reasoned with in the first place. Everyone who came this night made up their mind long ago. Most didn’t even bother to bring evidence for their decision because they knew none was needed. Soon the conversation leaves all decorum behind to wax on about conspiracy theories that prove Emilia was never a good teacher anyway. Her so-called communist, anti-Romania agenda is a “disgrace.”

The result is funny. You must laugh because the only other option is crying courtesy of just how insolent and obtuse the world has become where it concerns misinformation. Those who despise Emilia for what she did are either repressed or jealous (and definitely wielding the distraction to guarantee the spotlight misses their own transgressions on its way back around). Those who don’t care either want to make themselves feel smart or earn the excuse to watch their kids’ teacher having sex without recourse (to “better understand the situation”). Jude is having a blast making things more outlandish with each turn and Pascariu delivers an unforgettable performance with escalating frustration spilling over onto disrespectful strangers before a fantastical climactic battle sees a superhero dildo sword vanquishing her foes.


photography:
[1-3] A scene from BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

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