Is ‘Bad Luck Banging and Loony Porn’ the most enlightening film of the year?

The Romanian film puts the relatively minor sin of consensual sex in its proper perspective.

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Credit: Magnolia Pictures

If you’d asked me last year — or any previous year, for that matter — if I could imagine myself reviewing a film entitled Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, I’d have expressed considerable doubt at the prospect. Regular porn is boring and inartistic at best, and I can’t imagine the “loony” variety being much of an improvement.

Nonetheless, it has come to pass. And surprisingly, this Romanian feature (currently streaming via the Virtual Roxie, and originally titled, rather more opaquely for non-Romanian speakers, Babardeala cu bucluc sau porno balamuc) is a very early contender for this year’s far-in-the-future Favorite Films list. And others apparently agree: Bad Luck Banging and Loony Porn was pronounced Best Film at last year’s Berlin International Film Festival.

Beginning with three minutes of unsimulated sex, writer-director Rade Jude’s Bad Luck Banging might seem designed to shock, but there’s much more to it than its startling “cold open” suggests. Structured as a three-part examination of morality in a fundamentally immoral world, the film soon reveals itself to be much more than a leering examination of human genitalia. 

Katia Pascariu stars as Emi, a school teacher whose home recording of a sexual dalliance with her husband has leaked onto the internet. How it got there isn’t explained, but her efforts to remove it prove fruitless: As soon as it’s deleted from one website, it pops up on another. This, naturally, sits poorly with both her prestigious school’s administrators and her students’ well-heeled parents.

The film’s first act details Emi’s efforts to regain control of the video as she walks across Bucharest (if you’ve never been there, you won’t need to visit after watching this film), while the third depicts a socially distanced “trial” culminating in a parental vote on whether or not she should be allowed to keep her job — a task for which the deeply flawed parents seem particularly unsuited.

Bad Luck Banging‘s narrative segments are separated by its second act — a scathing, alphabetically ordered compendium of ugly history and cheap, coarse modernity. Tying Ceaușescu’s grotesquely ornate presidential palace to Romania’s World War II collaboration with Nazi Germany’s efforts to eliminate Jews and Gypsies and to the WikiLeaks “Collateral Murder” gun-camera video showing a U.S. helicopter shoot and kill two Reuters journalists and a number of Iraqi civilians — it’s an astonishing indictment that puts the relatively minor sin of consensual sex in its proper perspective.

If you’re uncomfortable watching human beings in flagrante delicto, you might want to give Bad Luck Banging a miss. If, however, you’re in the mood for a wide-ranging discussion of morality, pedagogy, and the purpose of education — and you’re reading Berkeleyside, so you probably are — you’re likely up for the challenge. Withal, this film comes strongly recommended for everyone above the age of consent.

Last and First Men. Credit: Roxie Theater

Also streaming courtesy the Virtual Roxie, Last and First Men was the only feature film directed by Icelandic polymath Jóhann Jóhannsson before his unexpected death in 2018 at the age of 48. Best known for his recordings with Apparat Organ Quartet and his later neo-classical compositions, Jóhannsson was as interested in cinema as he was in music.

Based on a 1930 novel by Olaf Stapledon and filmed in Yugoslavia, Last and First Men is science fiction of the most cerebral kind, with narrator Tilda Swinton speaking on behalf of beings millions of years in the future who bear an uncanny resemblance to our 21st century human race. As Jóhannsson’s camera meanders across the bizarre, otherworldly Tito-era sculptures that dot the Balkan countryside, she relates a story of a species whose planet rapidly became uninhabitable, forcing its inhabitants to flee to the poles. That could never happen, could it?

John Seal has lived in Oakland since 1981 and has been writing for Berkeleyside since 2009. He spends his spare time watching and reading about movies.