Berlinale 2021: Radu Jude On BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN

Radu Jude‘s Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn took this year’s Golden Bear at the Berlinale. The director sat to discuss the film’s controversial themes, the politics behind the humour and how cinema can subvert art to shine a light at political and societal hypocrisy.

On the inspiration for the film

I think it’s a combined source. When this question appears, people think more about the content of the film but I think, for me, the question is only half of it because there’s no such thing as the content of the film without form, so it’s a bit complicated to answer. 

[In Romania and Europe in general] attitudes were very polarized and very violent so I said “there’s something interesting here”, but I didn’t decide to make a film until I found a possible form to organize that because I really believe that cinema is a way to think of the world, to study the world in a way, using a specific language, using a specific tool. 

On the use of pornography and its perception as taboo

Sexuality is partially a taboo and it will remain like that, which is not a problem, I think. It depends on the country and the level of freedom regarding these things. But I can speak only about Romania, where I live. I really think there’s a lot of misunderstanding and a lot of hypocrisy. Romania is at the top of pornography consumption in Europe and, on the other hand, it is the most hypocritical towards that. I wanted to use  pornography as a kind of distorted mirror to see into other types of obscenity, 

You can find much worse situations, much worse cases of real obscenity – symbolically speaking – and we don’t react to that as we react to a small part of [pornographic] video. It’s ridiculous.

Berlinale 2021: Radu Jude On BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
source: Berlinale

On the patchwork-style montage of Part Two

It started with the idea of the structure of the film when I decided to make it more like a sketch, with more freedom in the structure. Then I had this idea of a literary device, of organizing the themes more or less like a dictionary. Of course, it’s a playful dictionary but it still is a literary device. Then I started to collect things that entered my life or observations. And I think this is something that many filmmakers don’t accept… They will never say that chaos organises the structure of the film, but, in my case, I would recognize that chaos was an element to work with. This is acceptable in painting, like with Jackson Pollock, but if you do that in a film they will say, “this is unacceptable for a feature film”. So I started to collect things from the internet, from books… Not very systematic, but in two or three years I collected them, and then I made the montage, which was like one hour long so I cut half of it because many were repeating themselves too much.

On his habit of employing film as a way of reckoning with the past 

I think there’s an old idea, from Walter Benjamin, who connected the present to the past, who had this idea of constellations, something from the present illuminating forgotten past events or, vice-versa, when something from the past can create a connection with something which appears in the present. This is an idea that interests me a lot.

Usually when you say “I’m interested in history” it’s, you know, events from the past, stories, things like that. But my interest is in finding this connection between history and what remains in the present time. 

So, basically, this was the idea here, I treated the phases of history as part of our present, which they are, actually. This is something very important to me. I tried to get away from that because I wanted the film to be very contemporary from the outset. I said no more films about history but, in the end, part of it is about history.

Berlinale 2021: Radu Jude On BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
source: Berlinale

On the absurdity of the COVID-19 pandemic and this being one of the first “COVID films”

I did martial arts, I’ve done aikido before and it’s a great discipline. There is a principle in martial arts that says all the situations that you get into can be returned to your advantage, you can always do something. So I think this principle is something we have to apply in our life as well and in our professional life. When the pandemic started, I didn’t know what to do. Then I said, “okay, let’s do the film, let’s use these elements”. I mean, if the virus is there, as a society we must see it, we mustn’t shy away. 

Many people were saying “are you sure about using masks all the time?”, so I took a step back… But, in the end, I said “look, the health of the people is much more important than the film itself”, and I’m so happy nobody got sick during the filming, even though the cases were going [he signs to say up]. 

The beauty of a shoot is that you get together with so many people from different backgrounds, different social classes and we are together as a crew and as a team. We can go to a pub or we can spend one hour at the lunch break talking to each other, and, by spending time together, we become friends, which didn’t really happen here. No time for relaxation, no pubs after the shooting… Nothing. So it was more related to work, but this is what it is.

On the daring opening scene and being “too provocative”

I heard this question repeatedly and I would never imagine that would be the case for an adult audience. A banal porn video… This is now what we call extreme sexual behaviour, it’s not sadomasochistic – not that I have anything against these practices. This is between adults and it is consensual, they can do whatever they want, there’s no BDSM, it’s just a banal sex scene that you wouldn’t even remember after ten days, so I am shocked that some people say that it’s provocative because I don’t see it like that. If it seemed like that then, oh well, I think that’s part of the film, it is at the centre of the film and it should be there. 

The idea is also to put the viewers exactly in the position of the parents when they see the video, to have their reaction towards it: is it okay? Is it bad? It forces you to have a position, you become one of the parents somehow.

On employing porn as an “art form”

I’m using what we can call a sociological or anthropological view of things. For instance, I’ve done a film last year called Uppercase Print, and – in that film – I worked a lot with national television archives from the 1980s, and I found images that were very rich and full of wonderful things, but they are not art. You can’t call these TV programs art but I transform them into art if I want, because of the anthropological side of them. 

We know from Duchamp, one of the great lessons in modernism, that if you take one object and put it in another context, it changes the meaning. So here we have the same attitude, taking a porn video and putting it in the film changes the meaning, it becomes part of the aesthetical device of the film, even if – in itself – it’s not.

Berlinale 2021: Radu Jude On BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
source: Berlinale

On how hard it was for Katia Pascariu to play the central role

Well you know Katia is the kind of no-bullshit actress, she’s really professional, she’s doing a lot of independent and political theatre, she’s really involved in the Romanian small scene. She was completely dedicated to the project and we didn’t even have a discussion when I presented her with the project and tried to talk a little bit about that. She said “I don’t have a problem with anything”, and that was it. 

Sometimes it’s annoying, not the question itself, but the fact that people are asked the question and artists themselves are full of bullshit and try to come for the journalists or others. If they are asked if the filming was difficult, everybody says “oh it was so difficult, I felt I was going to die”, but nobody says “how much money did you get?”. Why is it difficult for an actress to make the role? “Oh, it was so difficult, I had to learn the lines, I had to work a whole week…”, which is nothing. I mean, let’s ask a peasant about his work, that’s difficult work, let’s ask someone who works in a coal mine – nobody asks these people “is it difficult for you to work in a mine?”

On part three and choosing the variety of characters for the parent-teacher meeting

The first text I wrote about that was much more realistic. There were the same ideas, the same things, but expressed much closer to reality, where they were a little bit toned down. But then, because the first part of the film was conceived to be realistic, I needed a difference between the two of them so this was the idea. Somehow, at some point, it came down to making it more like a sitcom, like an exaggerated reality. So we had a military man, a priest, an aviator… At some point, I had a doctor but I forgot to use the white costume. The idea was to have it a little bit in your face and not necessarily realistic. It doesn’t mean it’s not truthful, I think there’s a difference between being truthful and being realistic because culture can be very truthful. George Grozs’s drawings about Fascism in the 30s are caricatures and are absolutely realistic. 

Berlinale 2021: Radu Jude On BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
source: Berlinale

On being a Berlinale veteran

I made nine feature films and six premiered in Berlin in different sections and I am absolutely grateful that the festival supported me during the years and accepted my work, which created the possibility of it to be seen because this is what the festival brings – not only the fact you feel accepted and people say we are not the stupidest on Earth – but your films can be seen and taken in by others. 

And what is specific about Berlin is that it’s a little bit – or maybe a lot more – braver than other big festivals, which would have never taken some of my previous films like Uppercase Print. Only a section like Forum would accept cinema like that, or maybe Locarno. So I’m very grateful to them and the fact that the festival is not as commercialised as other big festivals. 

On the other hand, I am completely aware that the film being selected for a festival doesn’t mean it’s better than other things that were not selected. For instance, last year I discovered the films of Andy Warhol and very few people watch them. I feel like Beauty #2 is a masterpiece and I think it wasn’t at a festival, it’s not a classic, although it deserves to be. I think our obligation as filmmakers and journalists is to spot good films, wherever they are.

On the reaction he is hoping to get from the film once it premieres in Romania

Well, I think some people will react against it and some for it. I think my other films were more confrontational, especially the films dealing with Romania’s involvement in the Holocaust, which is maybe not a taboo topic but something people don’t talk about. With that, there were some reactions which were really really horrible, like death threats and this kind of stuff. They can affect your beats. And a lot of insults on the media, and so on. I think, in this case, only some puritans will react to that. 

People who are cursing didn’t even go to see the film because how could they watch a film about Romania massacring Jews on the Eastern Front? It’s not true so they won’t see it! I think the same will happen here, but less. I think it’s going to be ok.

On the choice of location for the third part

That’s interesting because these meetings are usually inside, they happen in a classroom, so we were searching for locations and – because we shot just after the first lockdown – no institution would allow us to film there. Then I said “oh my God, having thirty people inside a classroom it’s not safe” so let’s move it outside. We found some places like school courtyards but still, nobody allowed us to shoot there and in the end, we had an intervention and spoke with the rector of the Polytechnic University. We found this very old building, which is a Chemistry faculty or something like that, which was perfect for us, and we struggled like hell for weeks in order to get all the papers to be able to shoot there. 

It’s a very old building, more than 120 years old, and it’s not used. You know, sometimes I think that it’s such a pity because they could use that as a park for children… The students don’t use it.

Berlinale 2021: Radu Jude On BAD LUCK BANGING OR LOONY PORN
source: Berlinale

On the film’s commentary on education

Well, I’m not from an educational background, I teach Film at a University but it’s not high-school or elementary school. But I have two kids, one is 16 and the other is 5 and a half, so I know the problems of the education system very well, and they are huge and completely depressing. I know every country has problems with their educational system but I think Romania is much worse than it was in dictatorship times because at least then the countryside schools were better. The communist schools… Well, there was a lot of propaganda, but otherwise, it was quite serious and now, because of neoliberalism or the lack of social solidarity and social security, the countryside schools don’t exist anymore or they are very, very bad and left to their own devices. 

My father comes from a  very poor background, from the countryside, and he went to a good school and studied Mathematics at the university so he could get away from the countryside and change his social status, so to speak. This happens less and less nowadays and I think that’s terrible. It’s a mixture of things, of course, the government and the attitude towards education, which is awful. And I don’t think it’s a conspiracy theory to consider that they don’t need an educated population, they need somebody they can easily manipulate. 

Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn screened as part of the Competition session of the Berlinale 2021.

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