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One of Eastern Europe's most acclaimed directors argues corruption, hypocrisy and racism are far more obscene than pornography in a Berlin film festival contender about a teacher whose sex tape winds up on the internet.
"Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn" by Romania's Radu Jude is perhaps the most daring of the 15 movies vying for the Golden Bear's top prize on Friday at the Berlinale, which has gone all-virtual due to the pandemic.
Opening with an extremely real-looking hardcore porn video, it tells the story of Emi, a junior high school history teacher in Bucharest.
The clip is taken from an amateur movie she shot with her husband that makes its way from PornHub to the mobile phones of her colleagues, students and their parents.
With disputes over social distancing and mask wearing already jacking up tensions and exposing social divisions, Emi fights to save her job and her reputation.
The conflict finally boils over at a surreal parent-teacher conference where representatives of Romanian institutions including the Orthodox church, the military and the nouveau riche professional class put Emi on a kind of show trial.
Although the sex tape is the matter at hand, Emi's defence of Roma children at the school, her insistence on teaching about Romania's complicity in the Holocaust, and her calling out of colleagues' sexism all come under attack.
The showdown reaches a farcical climax The Hollywood Reporter called "worthy of vintage John Waters".
Jude belongs to the new wave of Romanian cinema scooping up prizes at festivals around the world.
He won the Berlinale's best director prize in 2015 for "Aferim!" about the roots of anti-Roma discrimination.
Romania submitted as Oscar contenders both that film and his 2018 feature "I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians" about the 1941 Odessa massacre by Romanians.
"Many of the things that Emi's accused of are things that I was accused of in online comments regarding my previous films," Jude told AFP in a Zoom interview from Bucharest.
"Viewers are invited to make a comparison between the so-called obscenity of this porn video and the bigger obscenity, the public obscenity of the society, of the hypocrisy, of the traces of history that come to us."
- 'Comedy of despair' -
Shot entirely last summer during the Covid-19 outbreak, the film was adapted to take into account the heightened "aggressiveness" in the air.
"This becomes a metaphor –- people with masks trying to shout at each other. So I collected all the masks I found and chose them for the actors like a costume, like a time capsule."
He said he took inspiration from the sometimes hysterical WhatApp chats among parents from his children's school when he wrote Emi's trial scene.
"When it's about children I have the feeling that sometimes parents give up the facade, give up the politeness and go more directly to their values," he said.
"Because it's about children, this is no joke and we must go to the heart of the problem."
But he said that was no reason not to have some laughs about human frailty.
"There is a comedy of despair, there is a comedy of sexuality, there is a comedy of the human condition if you see it from a certain angle," he said.
"But this doesn't exclude of course being infuriated or angry at some aspects of the society."