More than 50 years ago, an American singer, Jeannie C. Riley, rode the country and pop charts with “Harper Valley PTA,” a sprightly tune about a woman confronting the hypocrisy of the local parents’ group after she’s chastised for wearing a miniskirt. Seems so quaint in the era of cell phone cameras and amateur porn, the two things that jam up a teacher in Romanian director Radu Jude’s latest Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn.
The sex is explicit between Emi (Katia Pascariu) and her husband Eugen (Stefan Steel) on the phone video that finds its way to the internet where one of her middle-school-aged students finds it and shares with his classmates. A showdown looms between her and angry parents that will determine whether she gets to keep her job.
Not that any of this is that straightforward. After opening with the sex tape, so that what all the fuss is about is made – ahem – nakedly clear, the film breaks off into three distinct sections. The first part sets up the situation through Emi’s visit to the chaotic home of her school’s headmistress and subsequent phone calls with Eugen, the camera following her as she roams the streets of pandemic-era Bucharest. Masks are everywhere but social distancing not so much as the camera picks up random conversations as Emi continues her city-wide trek.
The second section manages to be both witty and pedantic as a history of obscenity unfolds in collage-like fashion that also pulls in history lessons that perfectly set up the third section: Emi’s confrontation with her accusers. Social distancing is observed and masks are worn but while facial expressions are hidden there is no mistaking the bile with which they greet the teacher whom they so very recently held in high esteem.
But now’s she a “whore” who is corrupting their kids – that the children willfully shared the amateur porn clip amongst themselves does not faze them in the least. After demanding that the salacious tape – that they have all already seen – be played to further humiliate the teacher, the meeting steadily devolves, the parents’ sexism, anti-Semitism, and anti-Roma sentiments exposed. And much like the woman in that long ago country song, Emi – who knows that these people each have their own secrets to go with their evident prejudices – finds herself confronting the hypocrisy of the sanctimonious mob.
The people ganging up on her view Emi as immoral but, in fact, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn‘s moral center is the beleaguered teacher. She made a sex tape among consenting adults. The arguments she makes in favor of keeping her job are rigorous. But she is trying to make headway with people married to their prejudices, filled with hate, and immune to logic: Their minds are made up. And while Jude has made a film specific to Romania, the mindlessness and bile characterizing the horde that surrounds Emi can be found everywhere in the world. It is all awfully familiar. – Pam Grady