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Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn
originally published in the L.A. Review of Books
Duchamp once argued that there’s no progress in art; Bad Luck Banging makes the case there’s no subversion either. Filled with compelling performances and hypnotic designs, the film aims to push the edges of convention—but to what end?

A teacher releases a sex tape online; that tape gets discovered by a couple of her students; the teacher spends an afternoon walking to a mystery meeting, where a parent-teacher conference decides whether this teacher should resign. The film’s four major movements are divided into three “parts,” with an archival-essay pasted into the middle of the film, and the sex-tape in question shown at the start.

The film—and its marketing—make a big deal of its contemporary nature: it is a film conspicuously made with Covid, patriarchy, and social media in mind; it is a sex-positive film; it is a radical film (politically! formally!); it is an intelligent film. But while Banging expresses an awareness that these are forces worth dealing with—and modalities worth exploring—it’s not clear it has anything of substance to say.

Breezy, smarmy, and lacking in praxis, the film has all the ingredients for an anarchic masterpiece, except a core. It brandishes an irreverence for the filmic medium (or at least the veneer of such irreverence); it links patriarchy and colonialism to the cinematic images that uphold them; it trots a parade of Trotskian theorists; it preaches an appropriate contempt of history; but, all this, it does with no conviction.

Too paternalistic to be punk, too polite to be provocative, the film instead leaves a strong sense of being what it’s subtitled as—a sketch. In an interview with Slant, director Radu Jude states that the film was an experiment, and stricter editing would have only left a “20 or 30 minute” story behind. While this dynamic certainly makes itself felt, the deeper issue permeates even those 20 substantive minutes—what little film Jude does have was undercooked to begin with.

Illustratively, during a scene in which Banging’s characters read out long tracts of theory, its antagonists snicker conspicuously—the filmmakers wink-wink to us that they know theory is boring. Caught between the desire to make a point and make a punchline, they commit to neither—instead, the filmmakers leave only a nesting doll of gutless rhetoric. The film feels in the mold of certain masculo-euro-surrealists’ works, but Banging seems to hold subversion as the end, rather than a means, and—like Buñuel without the bombast, or Makevajev without the madness—this film races to undercut even its mildest provocations. But what’s so subversive about having nothing to stand for, in a world that’s already lacking in integrity?

Its experimental structure falls short of satisfaction as well. Formally, less inventive than most videos on TikTok; intellectually, less hefty than most debates on Twitter; pornographically, ahead of AMC fare but certainly not of OnlyFans—this “here-and-now” film reverse engineers platforms that already exist. Might the movie’s experiments in filling the one-way cinema screen with social media/collectivist aesthetics strike a particular nerve with Romanians, given their alternatingly fascist and communist pasts? Is there a new way forward here that Jude is in a unique position to access? Are Banging’s gestures—toward a new, liberationist cinema—ones the rest of us should follow? There’s a lot of richness to the film, but it’s trapped in an arrière-garde radicality, and in its rush to subvert, it declines to upend.
f i l m s:
❶ sweet pie ❷ tiapf—ogta
i n s t a l l a t i o n s:
❸ f*ck art ❹ cinesymposia ❺ ace of shade 
p o r n   a n d   w r i t i n g s:
❻ summer of love ❼ etcetera. ❽ criticism