Article: Opinion: How Katia Pascariu’s performance in Bad Luck Banging tackles institutional misogyny

Writing for The Bigger Picture, Beth Privitera looks at Katia Pascariu’s unwavering performance in Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn.

Radu Jude’s Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn evokes a complex tapestry of political and philosophical ideas, questioning the varying beliefs and behaviours that specific cultures consider to be vulgar and obscene. Critics have praised Jude for his successful three-part commentary, his successful approach to dismantling ingrained cultural belief systems, and his ability to write characters who implement actions and opinions that provoke the question, why do I feel shocked?

The component that sharply slices through the writhing mass of ideology – the most genuine and clearly defined truth, is the lead character Emi, played with astute realism by Katia Pascariu. Her performance explores a complex, internally driven character, that delicately deals with the complexities of a woman facing institutional misogyny. Her consistently unwavering coolness compliments many of Jude’s directorial decisions, it’s a powerful rendition, an authentic depiction of a woman seizing her own narrative, played with subtle gumption and focused relentlessness.

The story begins with an explicit home videotape revealing the Bucharest-based teacher engaging in raucous sex scenes, accompanied by her conveniently un-identifiable partner. Without any introduction, watching two unknown humans have sex on screen queries the position of spectatorship, demolishing the conventional cinema audience. It’s a level of extreme and cringe-worthy intimacy only ever intended for private viewing. Upon the rare occasion that cinema audiences are confronted with un-simulated, BBFC-testing sexual performances, there is notability to the absurdly convincing nature of the vigorously autonomous and intensely raw performances.

An internalised performance

Despite Jude creating a film in three definitive parts; Pascariu drives her own narrative running along on its own independent track. During the scenes following the sex tape, Emi becomes withheld and subdued, compelling us to notice how two conflicting sides of one person are so rarely depicted cohesively on screen. Emi is remarkably concealed, despite internally dealing with a crisis, she drifts through Bucharest, internalising, avoiding attention from the hideous caricatures surrounding her.

Concealing her turmoil, she frequently disappears from the frame while the narrative aimlessly meanders along her path of errands and stresses, dipping in and out. The audience can not physically keep up with Emi, as she jitters off-screen before we have a chance to catch up. A lot of her motivation is instinctively internalised, mask-clad, she listens, nods and mumbles. The constant disappearing leaves behind a trail of questions and encourages us to not look at her, but feel her absence. Emi’s reluctance to acknowledge the story trying to unfold in front of her supports Jude’s high expectations of his sophisticated audience.

There’s a poignancy to the way Emi is forced to navigate the disgusting and obscene acts that follow her around Bucharest. Emi takes a visit to her colleague’s apartment, where we are informed that her precious home video has made its way onto the internet. The news is delivered to us in a casual comment in the midst of another drama that is unfolding. The nuance of Pascariu’s performance is effective in the simplest and most immediate way, as her disposition remains seemingly unaffected by the obscene acts going on around her, placing her in a position of ultimate control to manipulate her world. The cinematic eye takes her side, by forcing us to look at the far more obscene behaviours which have become societal norms. As Emi ambles through the city in a nondescript grey suit, the mundanity of Emi’s presentation holds the identity of all the existing people who could at any point become a victim to her situation, and have their lives turned upside down and their societal accountability threatened.

Evolution of character

Emi displays a steady incline throughout the final chapter where she is confronted with a jury of teachers and societal representatives. The trial leads to scrutiny, slut-shaming, and victim blaming and exposes a series of postmodern attitudes regurgitating hypocritical beliefs towards sex, and as much as Emi fights back, she fails to convince them to alter their moral codes towards her expression of love. Her relaxed disposition finally breaks when she faces up to the hypocrisy of her colleagues, who have forced her into resignation from her beloved teaching role. It’s a remarkable shift, as she seizes her narrative literally and psychically, responding to the misogyny by attacking the academic ambassadors with an industry-standard dildo. The level of energy and autonomy matches that of the very performance that put her there.

There’s a degree of trepidation when making the creative decision to place the most un-conventional and unpalatable sequence at the very opening of a film. The outcome of the decision clearly benefitted from the synergy of visions, the collaboration between director and actress, and Pascariu’s undeniable commitment to the search for truth. The antics that bookend the film demonstrate Pascariu’s rendering of the role provides a self-contained evolution of character, partly due to the commitment from an actor who wasn’t afraid to exploit her own vulnerability on screen.

Beth Privitera is a film programmer currently on the BFI Film Academy Young Programmer’s Scheme. She is a film-preselector and event curator for the BFI Futures Festival 2022 edition. Her writing often explores perceptions of female identity and sexuality on screen. Her recent short film Submerge was screened at HOME cinema in Manchester as part of their Filmed Up season, and she has worked for festivals such as Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, BFI London Film Festival, and the Liverpool Biennial of Contemporary Art.

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