Conceptually audacious Romanian director Radu Jude has two films opening in U.S. cinemas this week.
One, “Bad Luck Banging or Looney Porn” (opening Nov. 26 in Los Angeles) is a pandemic-set indictment of a teacher by her hypocritical peers, and the other, “Uppercase Print,” an adaptation of a documentary play about a rebellious youth. Both reaffirm his recurrent ingenious exercise of juxtaposing his country’s present and past to find they are still not sufficiently dissimilar.
For the aesthetically economical but stoically piercing “Uppercase,” the filmmaker doesn’t deviate far from the theatricality of its source. A brightly colored television studio that houses a few different sets, each with oversized symbols of information technology (a giant TV or a voice recorder), stands as sole location. Think vintage game show.
There, a multitude of characters speaks directly to the camera about the “incendiary slogans” that teenager Mugur Călinescu (played by Serban Lazarovici) plastered on multiple sites across the city of Botoşani using chalk and writing in uppercase letters. The boy’s demands for freedom caused local uproar in 1981, during the last decade of dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime.
Between each fictionalized account, Jude abruptly inserts clips from a variety of television programs and other footage from the era. Some are seemingly innocuous testaments to a façade of prosperity (a cooking show), while others more obviously exemplify the propagandistic material that uncritically exalted the glories of socialism.
“I did it to awaken people’s consciousness,” says the valiant adolescent, whose simple act of protest was met with the state’s surveillance apparatus and blamed on the influence of Radio Free Europe’s broadcasts.
In folding in accusatory testimonies from parents, classmates and teachers, Jude draws a grim snapshot of a society collectively swallowed by a merciless ideological beast that feeds on fear., one most exciting and tireless auteurs in Eastern Europe today, continues to formulate unorthodox vehicles to address institutionalized vices.
Shouting in all-caps about unions and shortages of food, Călinescu symbolizes the power of individuals that dare to discern from their own personal trenches, regardless of how insignificant they may seem. Then and now, misbehaving youth with a righteous purpose will push us forward.
In Romanian with English subtitles
Running time: 2 hours, 8 minutes
Playing: Laemmle’s Royal, West L.A.