INTERVIEW

Making "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" required a "banal" sex tape to test how we police each other

Director Radu Jude spoke to Salon about society, shame and judgment in Romania's film submitted for the Oscars

By Gary M. Kramer

Published November 18, 2021 5:30PM (EST)

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Magnolia Pictures)
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Magnolia Pictures)

A leaked sex tape gets a Romanian teacher in trouble in writer/director Radu Jude's savage comedy, "Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn." The film opens with the explicit sex scene between Emilia (Katia Pascariu) and her husband Eugen (Stefan Steel). 

The first part of this three-act film, set during the pandemic, reveals the impact of its discovery. As Emilia tries to contain the situation, she encounters rudeness in the shops and streets of Bucharest. In Part 2, Jude features a "short dictionary of anecdotes, signs, and wonders," that define various power dynamics, from colonialism, to censorship, and persecution. The film's last act has Emilia "on trial" as the school's headmistress (Claudia Ieremia) has the parents and grandparents of Emilia's students debate the situation of her actions. The discussion gets heated and nasty and shows the hypocrisy of the accusers as well as Emilia's defense of her private life and teaching methods.

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Jude is speaking truth to power here, showing how people use power to control others, but don't want to be controlled themselves. The filmmaker spoke with Salon about his political film, which is Romania's submission for the Best International Film Oscar this year. 

You open your film with the explicit sex scene between Emilia and Eugen. It is a sequence that viewers think about throughout the film as we can't "un-see" it. It also prompts us to think about Emi and her actions, which some find shameful, some might find arousing. Can you talk about creating and using this scene as the foundation for your film?

It is at the beginning of the film now, but it wasn't supposed to be. The scene moved around a few times during editing. In the end, I kept it at the beginning thinking that it is good for the audience to know what [the video] was and to know and judge or appreciate or condemn — whatever reaction they have — because the video is at the center of the story. That was one thing, but it is also a bit of a perversity, because it is trying to put viewers in the shoes of parents.

There is a kind of mantra or cliché that all filmmakers say, "I'm building or constructing characters without judging them." I do not think this is possible. We are always judging to analyze reality. They can say they are judging the characters, but not condemning them. But the judgment is always there. It's interesting because I did some research on amateur porn websites — I know this sounds very hypocritical — and I tried to combine the small narratives and stories I saw in these videos. There are not many Romanians ones, most are in English, and I tried to make it not an extreme porn scene. I did the most banal one.


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"Bad Luck Banging" is set during the pandemic, and there are some great moments that show how various people police each other about masking and social distancing as well as the way we adapt to a form of control that is outside our control and should be respected. Can you talk about filming under these conditions, and how this added to your theme of authoritarianism?

I did a few films dealing with history, and when I wanted to get away from that frame of mind and make a very contemporary film, I wanted to keep something from my historical interest. I conceived the film of watching today by someone who comes back in time from the future, which is theorized in the second part of the film, and where the camera is paying attention to trivial things. When the pandemic came, when we were in preparation, so we just include that in one way or another, and it added another layer. The conflict that we have everywhere, especially in Romania regarding the social and medical measures, I wanted to show it was just another part of life. If people are so hysterical, or violent because of the pandemic, it just added to that. In this situation, we are in deep s**t because only 30% of the people here are vaccinated and there are a lot of deaths here. We are half in lockdown, and it will get worse. Schools are closed. It will be interesting to see what happens. A lot of people my age, 44, or age 50-70 are raging against the medical or sanitary dictatorship. But these people, who are older than me, in a real dictatorship, didn't do anything.  

There is a terrific theme in your film about the breakdown of society, and that politeness is a lost art — from an exchange at a supermarket, or in the street, when Emi scolds a driver who blocked the sidewalk, to an encounter in a pharmacy and a man crossing the street. No one likes to be told that they are wrong. This is a theme in your film. People just want to shame others. How should we combat such rudeness in everyday life? 

I'm not sure I have an answer to that, but it's a good question. Yes, in Western European countries, things are more stable. We were in shock by the change of power in America, and the Capitol attack. In Bucharest, we had dictatorship, and when it ended, we could choose what kind of society to create. Romania is quite a free society nowadays. There are a lot of civil liberties that were hard to imagine during Ceausescu's time. And yet the outcome of all this is that people embraced — without realizing the outcome — the most horrible individualist neoliberal society with no social protections. All of the scenes you mention, we see every day. It comes from this fact that people lack the sense of solidarity. We are told to be individualistic, so everyone bought a car and public transportation loses finance. There are eight times more cars here in Bucharest, and people are parking on sidewalks. You see this is a suffocating society and we are doing it to ourselves. Administration and political leaders start the change, but this doesn't happen.

The middle section of your film suspends the drama to show images and examples of repression, colonialism, persecution, censorship. There are several lines in your film that are quite telling. One about the more idiotic an opinion is the more important it is. One about teaching contributes to power relations. Can you talk about these themes and your attitudes towards authority?

In this case, not only the second part, but the rest of the film is not only a concern with authority and our reaction to it, but that it is always in the wrong. When we were supposed to be strong and to react, it doesn't happen, and when you are supposed to comply, you become a rebel. Someone said a Romanian is born as a pupil, lives as a clerk, and dies as pensioner. 

The videotape is a small trivial part of the story, it is unimportant — a superficial, tabloid story. But if you think about it, and the reason I made the film, is that this small story is like a fable that takes place in the middle of many tensions in our society. It is authority, but also questions rights and the digital world we are living in. All the issues of morality, and education, and body and the relation of the body and politics, and what is permitted and what is not — all these things go together. The film shows the intersection of these problems.

The tribunal in the last act reveals more about the accusers than Emilia who is on trial. I like that "Bad Luck Banging" addresses the themes of public and private. What are we allowed to do without judgment? 

We live now in this cancel culture, and as for me, everyone can have their own opinions, but I am one of these guys who can be called a "legalist," and less a moralist. I try not to be a moralist. In our private life, we can have a fight with a friend or a lover about morality issues. But what I tried to stage in the film is this conflict between morality and legality, and what is legal and what is not. I believe that each case should be discussed in itself, statistically, I am more inclined to be on the legal side. If someone has the legal right to do something, then they should do it if they want to and not be judged for it. I have a strong reaction to morality and judging people according to their moral criteria. If someone goes to jail for a crime they committed, when they get out, they are not guilty anymore in my opinion. They are rehabilitated. I really hate when people consider someone because they made a mistake, they are guilty for life and should be canceled for life. I'm against that on principle. I'm against judgments that happen more and more on social media. For some situations, like works of art, sometimes you need more time to think and reflect on that. You cannot have a one-minute reaction to everything. People can do what they want but the film shows the tensions. The teacher says, "It's my right to do that," but people say, "Maybe it's your right, but it's not moral." That is not a dialogue. Saying you shouldn't do something if you have the right to do it. It is my right not to be a moral person. 

The film has discussion of decency. Do you think pornography can be harmful to children? What is appropriate censorship? And who is responsible for enforcing it?

Any question is OK to be asked. When you say, "Is pornography dangerous for children?
We can answer in any manner we want. The answer of the teacher in film is, "It's not my concern, it's you the parents who should protect your children and teach them not to get on these websites." That is from the point of view of the laws. This is what matters.  

You quote texts from Brecht, Bourdieu, Eco, Kracauer, Sartre, Todorov, Arendt, and other thinkers in the film. Can we mount a defense with logic and reason in a society where people want to believe science and fact? 

Yes, I think yes, this is the only thing strive for — for rationality, truth, and science. My answer is also very superficial because everyone can say yes, we know, but science can be dangerous, and what is science today may not be [true] tomorrow. There is a balance to keep. There's a great [neuroscientist], Antonio Domasio. He wrote "Descartes' Error" and "Looking for Spinoza," and both books are about the brain and how the brain works. In "Descartes' Error," he demonstrates you cannot make decisions only based on rationality. It is always a bit of emotion inside you that makes decisions, for patients whose emotions are blocked had their decision blocked. It's a mix of rationality and emotionality. I try not to let my emotional part take control completely. I'm not a psychologist, and I am not a priest either.

You also have another film, "Uppercase Print" out now, which addresses themes of repression and suppression. Can you discuss that? 

There are two types of filmmakers, or artists. I can speak more about filmmakers. There are ones who have a very distinct style and universe that you can recognize when you see their film. Woody Allen is obvious, or someone like John Ford. There are filmmakers who try — and I would like to be in this first category, but I am not — to find a form in every film. But I strongly believe film is a tool for thinking, and it happens in the form or shape the film takes. The two films are both an attempt to find a form that thinks — to speak about topics in a specific form that only cinema can do it best. That was something that Italo Calvino said in a Cahiers du Cinema interview in the 1960s. He was taken by the French New Wave at the time. He called them "essay" films, which have a different meaning now. These films can be sociological, psychological, or political, or historical, they have a meaning or importance only if they can do something that sociology, psychology, and history cannot do. I believe my films dealing with history can do something that a book of history cannot do. I try to find what is the thing that only cinema can do and try to do that. In the case of "Uppercase Print," it is montage and the representation of the past. I chose not to stage the past in a Hollywood manner, or how traditional cinema would do it. The story is broken by television images from the time, the 1980s, and this creates a kind of storytelling which is specific only to cinema. You cannot do that in other media. In literature, there only words no images. Here you have words and images so it is very cinematic even though it might not appear that way.

"Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" is in theaters Friday, Nov. 19. Watch a trailer of it below, via YouTube.

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Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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