Radu Jude’s rebellious and provocative Babardeală cu bucluc sau porno balamuc (Bad Luck Banging Or Loony Porn) won the Golden Bear at this year’s digital Berlinale, making it one of the most outrageous and risqué winners of the festival’s top prize. No surprise there, as the Romanian filmmaker’s previous documentaries and feature films have engaged with socio-political issues and courted controversy in repeatedly confronting societal hypocrisies, as well as critiquing the political climate in his home country.
We spoke to him about his farcical social satire about a schoolteacher at grips with the online leaking of her sex tape, and the art of treating viewers to a cinematic salad bar.
Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn starts with a sexually explicit scene, which makes sense considering the narrative revolves around a sex tape, but the ensuing structure of the film as a poly-genre triptych is surprising. How did you conceive the film’s form?
To put it as simply as possible, I was working against the idea of having a nice, smooth dramaturgic structure and putting the story at the centre of the film. A lot of films unravel as a storytelling device. I have a slightly different view, seeing cinema as a research tool, something which records reality and shows it using such tools as montage. Cinema can be a tool to better see reality, a tool to make juxtapositions and connections. In order to have this, I had to find a different type of structure that allows for more freedom, the form of a sketch that is recomposed in the mind of each viewer. I wanted the viewer to put the film together, much like when dealing with a salad bar – you have the tomatoes here, the cucumber there, and that’s how the film is done. You compose your film and create your juxtapositions.
In the second part of the film, you’re creating those juxtapositions through a daring use of montage. Was that the intention – having viewers making their own ‘salad’, realising in the process how ridiculous sanctimonious stances are, especially when contrasting sex and the real obscenities humans are capable of?
Exactly. Montage is possibly one of the most important tools of cinema and it makes creating connections very natural. You can put together sounds, images and texts and they can interact very easily. This essayistic part that plays out like a dictionary is something that goes around the story of the film – sometimes close to the story when it’s about sex, sometimes more obliquely related to the story, and sometimes far removed in a more poetic sort of way. For me, the second segment of the film allows for three types of connections: direct ones, indirect ones, and sometimes even no connection at all.
In this second segment, there’s a quotation that says that cinema is “a surface that both reflects the horrors of humankind and makes them more bearable”. Do you see cinema as a way of confronting and possibly exorcising our darker impulses?
It’s a quote by Siegfried Kracauer and it made me think of Susan Sontag, who had this great book called Regarding the Pain of Others that tries to show atrocities through images and beckons the question: Is it good or bad to show atrocities?
I wanted the viewer to put the film together, much like when dealing with a salad bar – you have the tomatoes here, the cucumber there, and that’s how the film is done.
She didn’t find an answer, and I cannot find an answer myself. But using that quote was my way of saying that cinema is something important in order for us to better see the world.
The third part of the film – a PTA meeting that feels like a warped sitcom tribunal – is highly critical of modern Romania and feels like a call for better educational systems…
The third part is exactly like a TV show and, tangentially, it was a way for me to see and show that the Romanian educational system is in collapse. So many times people say that the teachers and politicians are to blame when something goes wrong, which can be true in many cases, but it’s also because of us and the values of the parents. I’m a parent myself – I have two kids – and so much of the dialogue in this last part of the film is taken from observations from listening to parents’ grievances and demands in PTA meetings.
Education so often feels like it’s not there to make us better understand the world; it’s just a tool to get you to a higher position. People don’t care if their kids really learn something – they want their kids to go to a better high-school, then a better university, and so on… You end up with people who are just good at exams. Then you have economists, doctors, whichever jobs are considered “great”, who are unable to appreciate a painting or understand the constitutional rights of minorities, people who are oblivious to history, architecture, cinema… I strongly believe that schools should be there to make kids more responsible citizens who have a strong desire to know the world.
The third part finishes with three different endings – why this choice?
I think it reflects the sketch nature of the film, but it’s also my perverse way of saying that everybody can choose his or her own ending. But, of course, the real ending is the third one… I just want to give the illusion of choice! (Laughs)
It’s my way of subverting expectations and shocking the philistine audience who expect something elegant and graceful from an Instagram world.
Can you tell me more about the garish colours and the choice of the repeated use of the song ‘Eh Toto’ by French singer Boby Lapointe?
The songs by Boby Lapointe are often about language and the film is also about how language shapes ideas and reality. Its inclusion is there for ironic and problematic purposes, because some of the lyrics are on the edge, so to speak. And it’s also included because Boby Lapointe was playing in a film by François Truffaut called Tirez sur le Pianiste (Shoot the Piano Player) – it’s my homage to the Nouvelle Vague, as my film is in many ways inspired by the French films of the 1960s. Regarding the bright colours, it’s my way of subverting expectations and shocking the philistine audience who expect something elegant and graceful from an Instagram world! (Laughs)
You filmed Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn in the Summer of 2020, before the second wave of the pandemic, and you incorporate the use of face masks in the film to address the current moment. Do you think that if you hadn’t filmed during a pandemic, an extra satirical layer on toxic masculinity would have been lost?
Absolutely! Of course, first and foremost, the masks were there to protect the actors and the crew, and I’m happy to report that nobody got infected, despite the fact that the cases were rising while we were shooting. So, we did something right there! But even if by some miracle the pandemic had ended before we started shooting, I would still have kept the masks because it works symbolically for a film about someone who is unmasked – the lead character’s sex tape is shown to everyone, and in many ways the masks symbolise the repression and silencing of women in societies.
The film premiered digitally in March and when Berlinale artistic director Carlo Chatrian announced you had won this year’s top prize you seemed in complete disbelief, like it was a prank… Was this an effect of the whole thing happening remotely this year?
I had this feeling, yes! Without a physical ceremony this year, it was always going to be a little strange, and I thought it was a joke! To be honest, I’m still in disbelief and waiting for the jury to have second thoughts and change their minds! (Laughs)
The film was finally seen by audiences in outdoor cinemas during the Berlinale Summer Special event, and is now getting a full cinema release. You’ve been critical of red-carpet events, which you have called out for having nothing to do with filmmaking. Do you welcome the possibility of future digital editions for film festivals?
I’m not a purist and not an idealist towards anything. I’m really grateful that the festival took place at all, even in a digital form. Meanwhile I’m still a strong believer that cinema is made to be seen on a big screen and that the power of cinema is to project things, make them bigger, and that it’s important to see films collectively – that’s part of cinema, to have a collective and shared experience. But like I said, I’m not a purist – I watch films on televisions, laptops… It is what it is, a copy of the film. It’s like seeing a painting in a book or on a phone – it’s not perfect and it’s better to see the real thing in person, but at least you still see something.