Sex is Scary at the Berlin Film Festival

Slut-shaming looms over an all-online edition

Slut-shaming looms over the 2021 Berlin Film Festival. What better year than this online-only quarantine edition to include a movie about a PornHub video that went viral? Also still viral: COVID-19. Both figure prominently in Main Competition entry Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn, the gonzo dialectic comedy from Romanian director Radu Jude.

Bad Luck Banging
Berlin
‘Bad Luck Banging’

A teacher at a posh private school makes a joyously explicit sex tape with her husband—whipping included—and then finds her world in turmoil after someone leaks it on the internet. Suddenly the world labels her “Porn Teacher” and her must confront an angry mob of socially distanced parents at an emergency meeting in the school’s opulent open-air courtyard to decide her fate.

But the film has much than sex on its mind. After kicking off with a generous and very explicit dollop of the aforementioned fuck-and-suck session, Bad Luck Banging turns into an eclectic modern triptych delineated by ornately antique title cards.

The first chapter leisurely follows the schoolteacher around Bucharest as she runs errands, watching her foul-mouthed countrymen get into petty dust-ups at cash registers and on the street. The second chapter is a bizarre, eccentric agitprop pontification on language labeled “A Short Dictionary of Anecdotes, Signs, and Wonders.” Disconnected footage of Romanian life accompanies ruminations on racism, sexism, workplace abuse and political corruption during Nicolae Ceaușescu’s dictatorial reign. Plus, blowjobs.

The third chapter is the school confrontation, a riotous inquisition where one of the seemingly scandalized parents insist on showing the sex video to everyone on an iPad and then joins others in delightfully leering while the schoolteacher sits in quiet indignance at their hypocrisy. Everyone wears a mask, as per now-normalized COVID protocol. and the inherent surreality makes the entire situation even more absurd. One woman has alluring lips painted on her mask. A priest has the words I CAN’T BREATHE. Everyone is outraged and passionate, but you wouldn’t know it from their concealed expressions. “Wipe that smile off your face,” the schoolteacher says at one point. If only.

The director fills their extended, bawdy, puerile discourse with references to philosophers, historical figures, the private lives of public figures, the varying efficacy of education and the erotic writings of revered Romanian poet Mihai Eminescu. He also peppers it with anus puns and an off-screen heckler who keeps laughing like Woody Woodpecker. How does it all end? With a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure climax. One alternate version shows the schoolteacher transforming into an Eastern European Wonder Woman, throwing a net over all the parents, and then mouth-raping them with an enormous dildo. Roll credits!

The Scary of Sixty-First
‘The Scary of Sixty-First’

Bad Luck Banging is by far the most baroquely odd film of the festival, but that doesn’t mean it was unique in its frenzied obsessions. Also raising eyebrows and popping eyeballs was Dasha Nekrasova’s loopy American indie The Scary of Sixty-First, which uses the late billionaire pedophile Jeffery Epstein’s sex-slave legacy as the springboard for a dark exploitation fantasy full of demonic possession and pedophilic blood sacrifice.

Two young women rent an Upper East Side apartment just five blocks from Epstein’s mansion and slowly discover that he once used their nondescript pad as an orgy flop house. “Things that are very sinister happened here,” says one of the girls, who strikes up a sapphic relationship with a pill-popping Pizzagate conspiracy nut fixated on Epstein’s crimes. Meanwhile, her roommate starts uncontrollably masturbating to magazine photos of Prince Andrew and doesn’t like vanilla sex with her boyfriend anymore. “Fuck me like I’m 13!” she screams at him during coitus. In the middle of the night, she even stumbles out onto the street and ends up sleep-fapping at Epstein’s doorstep, rubbing away while she sucks the mansion’s front doorknob.

Ninjababy
Berlin
‘Ninjababy’

It’s been a banner year at the Berlinale for female sexuality. One of the sweeter entries, this time in the more YA-oriented Generation section, was Yngvild Sve Flikke’s Norwegian comedy Ninjababy. Imagine Judd Apatow’s Knocked Up, but with Seth Rogan as the pregnant one, and you’ll start to get a sense of the immature graphic-school dropout who one day discovers that—despite overdrinking, taking drugs, and reveling in one-night stands—she’s actually six months pregnant. Her low-key fetus barely kicks, her belly isn’t swollen, and her irregular menstruation cycles all contributed to the stealth surprise. “It’s just a fucking rotten sneaky Ninjababy,” she moans.

The father: a stoner fuck-buddy she nicknamed Dick Jesus who has a “Blaze the Lord” poster in his kitchen. It’s a hilarious and unexpectedly heartwarming look at a woman who doesn’t want to be a mom, can’t get an abortion, and keeps having imagined conversations with her animated offspring.

Petite Maman

Speaking of offspring, best of the fest so far goes to Céline Sciamma’s Petite Maman, an exquisitely intimate and—at 72 minutes—densely slender tale about how the death of a grandmother transforms an 8-year-old girl’s relationship with her mother. Saying too much would spoil the enchantment of this potent and bittersweet drama, a heartfelt confessional that elevates minor moments into myth. But suffice it to say that the film blurs the line between adult and child with some magical realism bordering on science fiction. “It’s about how kids care, and how they take care of us,” said Sciamma in a virtual Q&A conducted from the mk2 Nation Theater in Paris. “It’s about what is transmitted from generation to generation.”

The acclaimed director’s previous film, her breakthrough period romance Portrait of a Lady on Fire, won awards around the world and elevated her to the front ranks of today’s international auteurs. But she was far from pretentious during the conversation, referencing how Penny Marshall and Hayao Miyazaki were influences on her new movie and how she’s obsessed with WandaVision. “It’s a great series,” she said. “Well—we’ll see after the season finale this Friday.”

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Stephen Garrett

Stephen Garrett is the former film editor of 'Time Out New York’ and has written about the movie industry for more than 20 years. He is also the founder of Jump Cut, a marketing company that creates trailers and posters for independent, foreign-language, and documentary films.

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