★★★★☆ The tragicomic absurdity of cultural morality is the target of prolific Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude's latest feature, the bawdy social satire - and 2021 Golden Bear winner - Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.

★★★★☆

The tragicomic absurdity of cultural morality is the target of prolific Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude’s latest feature, the bawdy social satire – and 2021 Golden Bear winner – Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. The film’s focus may be on Romanian society specifically, but its satirising of moral hypocrisy and collective hysteria extends beyond national boundaries. Meanwhile, its ironic use of explicit, real sex challenges assumptions of voyeurism and exploitation.

Bad Luck Banging is structured in three acts – the first and third being a conventional narrative centred around the leaking online of school teacher Emi’s (Katia Pascariu) private sex tape and the prurient inquisition by her students’ parents, while the second is a montage that expands beyond conventional narrative to expose the deep-rooted social discourses that frame the behaviours and prejudices of the film’s characters.

Bad Luck Banging plays like three interconnected short films, with each layering meaning on the others. The first act is the most grounded in reality, following Emi as she goes about her day, before heading to the parent-teacher conference to face her accusers. The camera follows Emi at a distance, its voyeurism broken as it pans away from her to examine, variously, derelict buildings, torn posters or tacky fruit machines in an amusement arcade, while irate citizens berate and harangue each other.

The camera’s deliberate movements in these sequences initially feel clumsily didactic as they point out the decay of the city, but the film’s later sequences underline that Jude is less concerned with lamenting social fracture, but in understanding that fracture as a layering of cultural histories which can be peeled back and examined. Early on, a torn advertisement reveals another underneath, forgotten but not erased by progress; later, a flower blooms, an act of transformation and renewal made ironic by juxtaposing a story about a fascist who converted to Islam before murdering his Nazi flatmates for disrespecting his religion.

The film’s final act tilts into outright absurdist satire, its colours becoming more lurid, its crash zooms more sensational, while the puerile hypocrisy of the parents – supposedly outraged by Emi’s leaked film – is laid bare as they clamour to watch the tape in its entirety. As the witch trial continues, the mask of respectability is dropped as the parents become more comfortable in expressing their racist and antisemitic attitudes. Indeed, it becomes clear that the debate over whether to fire Emi has little to do with her sex tape, but rather, the tape provides a cover for expressing the group’s poisonous atavism, while Emi is a scapegoat on whom to pile their own perceived sins. Bad Luck Banging may appear to be deeply cynical of human nature, but in fact its real targets are the flimsy discourses that we build to obscure and justify our baser urges, couched in illusions of history and morality.

Christopher Machell