Hot for Teacher – Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn

One of these days the Academy will bow to the gods of fun and lean into absurdity. There have been attempts in the past, all of which were tone deaf and utterly ill-advised, chasing hashtags rather than substance. I’m sure the trend will continue for a few more years to come. But somehow, someday, the collective pole up AMPAS’ keister will loosen, and we’ll be able to appreciate the goofiness of film as part of the artform.

For me, the easiest way would be to have an unofficial award for Best Movie Title. Every year we get several films on the Oscar radar – some are nominated, some aren’t – that just have absolutely amazing titles. Right off the top of my head I think of Documentary Short winner Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 and International Feature nominee The Man Who Sold His Skin. Even if you have no idea what the film might be about, a really great title can draw you in, piquing your curiosity, and subconsciously making you more favorable to the project before you see a single frame. At the same time, a terrible title can completely turn you off. I think back to, I believe 2006, when I saw a movie shortly after moving away from home. I barely remember the actual movie (I want to say it was X-Men: The Last Stand, but don’t hold me to it), but what I do recall with almost crystal clarity was a trailer for a truly awful looking vampire romance with the absolutely laughable title, Blood and Chocolate. I’d never heard an entire theatre bust a gut as a unit at a movie title before. Any chance that film had was instantly destroyed by such a bad choice.

All of this is to say that if we ever did have a category for the names of films, my instant nominee would be Romania’s entry for International Feature, Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn. Now, Romania got two nominations last year for Collective, for International Feature and Documentary Feature, sadly losing both, and repeating the double-edged sword accomplishment of North Macedonia’s Honeyland the year before. This year, the submission is a complete 180 from their previous outing, a biting satire that at times borders on Monty Python-esque farce, with a story and execution as absolutely bonkers as its title, and it works to great effect.

First things first, the title is wholly accurate, especially the back half, as the film opens with its star, Emi Cilibiu (Katia Pascariu) making a sex tape with her husband, Eugen (Stefan Steel, an actual Romanian porn star). It is graphic, including penetration, and includes some goofy foreplay, so suffice to say, this is very much NOT a film for kids. You need to be prepared for this going in, because if you have less prurient sensibilities, this may be worth steering clear. At minimum, you should be aware of it so that the shock value doesn’t color your perception of the rest of the work. It’s fine to transfer your reaction to the sex itself further down the line in the story – in fact I think director Radu Jude intends it that way – but not the surprise of seeing (what certainly appears to be) hardcore sex in a public theatre.

Now that the disclaimer is out of the way, on to the story, which is divided into three parts with silly title cards and circus-style music prefacing each one. The first act is the immediate fallout for Emi. She and Eugen uploaded the video to a private fetish website for their own enjoyment, but somehow, the video was pirated and sent to public sites, and now it’s gone viral. Normally this would not be a scandal, but Emi is a high school teacher, and as such, it’s made national headlines. The puritan cries of the students’ parents are such that she has to attend a parent-teacher conference, moderated by the school’s principal (Claudia Ieremia), to determine her future.

Each of the three acts deals in stark terms with social hypocrisy. In Act I, Emi goes about the business of her day, both in trying to get the video deleted, and preparing her defense for a crime she didn’t commit. In the course of this, she walks about Bucharest, doing errands, all the while wondering if the people she encounters have seen the video (or the news coverage), and are thus judging her covertly or overtly. In one example, a truck driver has pulled his vehicle onto the sidewalk, forcing her to walk in the streets. When she asks him to move, he calls her a “cunt,” which can have any number of meanings, from the innocuous (the U.S. is one of the few countries where the word has any real social taboo; elsewhere it’s akin to any minor swear word-level insult like “asshole”) to the referential (the word is used often in the video as a seductive description for her vagina).

More importantly, though, as she makes her way around town, she sees actual social and legal crimes unfolding in plain view, with no one facing consequences. People jaywalk, with one actually getting run over, and the driver simply fucks off like nothing happened. Sexual messaging and advertising is littered throughout the city. Casinos are open to the public on main thoroughfares. A shop sells an Emoji Movie backpack. This is all harmful to children, and all of these are outward, public-facing bits of normal life, and yet her career is on the line because of something she did in her private life that was made public without her consent.

The third act is more of the same, only with the direct confrontation of the parents at her school. Sitting front and center in a public crucible (one of the parents even shows the crowd the video for those who were blissfully ignorant of it), she not only has to answer for the grievous offense of having a sex life within the bonds of matrimony, but she becomes a lightning rod for every nonsensical grievance about the education system in which she serves. Some openly slut shame her and proposition her to reenact the video with them. Current and former military officers threaten to pull their kids out, not only if Emi keeps her job, but if the curriculum isn’t changed to jingoist talking points and antisemitism. People bitch about wearing masks because they think COVID is a hoax and that a piece of cloth is more a danger to their freedoms than guns pointed to their heads if they protest economic policy. When a test vote is taken to determine the course of action the school may take (it’s noted that they actually can’t fire Emi because she herself didn’t post the video and the sexual acts didn’t take place on school grounds), those who want her to resign decide that certain votes should be thrown out for completely arbitrary reasons that really only boil down to eliminating likely opposition. Romania is closer to the nation of Georgia than the U.S. state of Georgia, but the parallels are clear.

Where the film shines is in how Emi stands her ground. Pascariu is lethal in her gaze and cool in her assertions, because she knows the facts are on her side, and she has no qualms stating them. This is the grander theme of the film, that mob rule threatens to rewrite literal facts to satisfy their self-serving narratives, and none of them will take responsibility for their own transgressions when raising their kids. One woman in particular gets in Emi’s face to call her an indecent and immoral person, to which Emi counters that the parent has attempted to bribe her in the past to give her kid better grades. Every time a fascist sympathizer berates her for teaching basic things like the Holocaust happening, she stands firm and cedes no ground to outright lies. She does not promote one political or religious ideology over another, but she does insist on being able to teach her students the truth, and let them make their own decisions with that knowledge. And when it comes to her sex life, it is her own, and if the kids find it online, on sites that are supposed to be restricted to adults, that is the fault of the parents for not controlling their kids’ content and screen times, not the teacher’s for making love to her husband.

The second act is where the film falters a bit, mostly because it’s a sudden, jarring break from the action for a lengthy interlude. In clever bits of juxtaposition, Jude presents a series of vignettes that further demonstrate the inherent hypocrisies in Romanian culture through ironic definitions and demonstrations of concepts. Some of them are very direct, like showing a woman giving a blowjob. Others are much more scathing, like an empty hospital across the street from a funeral home with a line around the block as an example of “Healthcare.”

Some of these scenes are inspired and deeply funny, even to a foreign audience. Some of them don’t land as heavily due to lack of historical context for the viewers. But also, this is the middle chunk of the film. The story is ground to a dead stop for a solid 20 minutes for this exercise, and while it’s informative and at times hilarious, it also screams that there wasn’t enough content in the main plot to fill a feature length run time. This entire section could have been cut out, and with a few trims in the first and third acts, this could have been a short film, one that would almost certainly win the Live Action Short category with little resistance.

That doesn’t mean this is a bad movie. Far from it. The premise is strong, the satire well on point (including three possible endings, all of which are either deeply meaningful, hysterically funny, or both), and Pascariu’s performance is top notch. I just think the middle part detracts a bit because the myriad examples are not universally understandable, and the sequence goes on for far too long. Even cutting it in half and only showing the most scorching bits would have helped, or having a more linear plot with small bits breaking up the action in multiple points as a sort of palate cleanser. But to go from a 10-minute prologue, to a 40-minute first act, then a 20-minute diversion before a 25-minute ending is just a pace that doesn’t quite work. It doesn’t sink the film by any means, and more than anything I’m pleased that Jude fully committed to the in-your-face nature of the conceit, but it does warrant docking a few points. Still, I wouldn’t be the least bit upset to see this make the shortlist or even get a nomination.

Grade: B+

Join the conversation in the comments below! What film should I review next? What do you think is the best movie title of the year? *puts on Tommy Wiseau voice* Anyway, how’s your sex life? Let me know!

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