Radu Jude’s jolting and sometimes bizarre Romanian-language movie, Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn, which opens in Canada on November 26, is unconventional, to say the least. To the best of my knowledge, it is the first mainstream film featuring hardcore sex.
Yet it would be a huge mistake to define it by its occasional explicit erotic content. Jude is a fierce critic of his homeland, Romania, which was alternately ruled by fascists and communists from the 1930s until the late 1980s. Since then, Romania has evolved into what passes for a normal European democracy, but the ghosts of the past linger on.
Judged to be the best movie at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, this arthouse film begins with a breathless three-minute scene during which a married couple engage in sex. Emi (Katia Pascariu) and her husband, Eugen, go at it ardently. He records their sexcapade on his cellphone and, inexplicably, uploads the video on the internet.
Emi, a history teacher at a high school in Bucharest, is understandably worried that she may lose her job due to her husband’s stupidity.
In the ensuing scenes, Emi, conservatively dressed, wanders the streets of the Romanian capital in an agitated state. Calling her husband, who never appears in the film again, she says frantically, “Do something, they could fire me.”
Sexual imagery appears on the screen during her extended walk, but it has no consequential bearing on the film’s theme, which explores subjects ranging from Nazi atrocities to Romanian antisemitism. From that point onward, Jude bombards a viewer with unsettling images, references and observations from the near and distant past.
Romania, an ally of Nazi Germany, withdraws from its alliance with Berlin and joins the Allied side on August 23, 1944. This is followed by a fleeting reference to the mass murder of Jews during the Holocaust.
In a dig at the Romanian Orthodox Church, Jude accuses it of cozying up to Romanian dictatorships. One such tyrant, Nicolae Ceausescu, was executed, along with his wife, bringing the curtain down on communist rule in Romania.
Jude throws in more unpalatable tidbits. A Nazi execution squad killed 3,000 Jews and Roma in the Russian city of Simferopol before Christmas so that the executioners could celebrate the birth of Christ at leisure.
Fast forwarding to the present, Jude points out that six out of ten Romanian children are the objects of violence. Then, in abrupt and head-turning transition, a young woman performs fellatio on a man, while a naked woman fondles herself.
One hour into the film, Emi is summoned to a meeting at the school where her fate will be decided by the parents of students who downloaded her husband’s porn clip. Emi defends herself valiantly and intelligently.
A priest stands up and accuses Emi of having “indoctrinated our children about the Holocaust.” Supporting his accusation, a man claims that lies have been disseminated about “Romanians killing kikes.” Jude does not delve into Romania’s active participation in the Holocaust. The same man accuses Emi of having “badmouthed” Ion Antonescu, Romania’s fascist ruler.
Courageously, Emi says she told her students that the Romanian army committed atrocities during the war in the Soviet Union. “Lies,” someone in the audience shouts in indignation. “Are you Jewish?” someone else asks provocatively. She replies, “No. Why?”
“She may as well be Jewish,” another person says. “She’s paid by their Mossad.”
The antisemitic slurs continue to fly thick and fast.
“How dare you indoctrinate our children with filthy Jewish propaganda,” a woman says. “What about what Israel does in the occupied territories?”
A middle-aged soldier rises. “I won’t listen to Jewish propaganda in my country and in my children’s school,” he bristles. “We all know Hitler and the (concentration) camp commandants were all Jews, killing their own as an excuse to create Israel,” he adds.
Maintaining her cool, Emi responds succinctly, “I don’t teach conspiracy theories.”
A vote is taken to determine whether Emi will be dismissed. With emotions running high, a man says, “I told you she’s Jewish.”
The flaws and deep-rooted antisemitic prejudices of Romanian society are summarily exposed. Evidently enough, there are more serious problems in Romania than a misbegotten and insignificant sex video.