Guilty Pleasures: Radu Jude
This article appeared in the August 17, 2023 edition of The Film Comment Letter, our free weekly newsletter featuring original film criticism and writing. Sign up for the Letter here.
Radu Jude on the set of Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn (Radu Jude 2021). Photo by Silviu Gheție. Courtesy of Radu Jude
Guilty Pleasures is a column that invites filmmakers to list 10 movies they enjoy in spite of themselves. We asked Radu Jude (whose latest film, Do Not Expect Too Much from the End of the World, won the Jury Prize at this year’s Locarno Film Festival) to contribute an entry. He took the prompt and ran with it, so to speak.
According to Wikipedia, a guilty pleasure is “something, such as a film, a television program, a piece of music, or an activity, that one enjoys despite understanding that it is not generally held in high regard.” I don’t have anything of the sort. Sometimes I listen to stupid music on my headphones to speed up my pace, because I like to walk a lot—and the Sex Pistols, Motörhead, Sepultura, and even Manowar are effective, despite the lyrics being so idiotic that they make you blush if you really listen. (I don’t know German, so Rammstein has a small advantage here.)
As for cinema, I am truly interested in everything and I consider all moving images to be part of “the cinema kingdom,” from amateur porn to Ingmar Bergman, from trash TV to Shoah, from TikTok videos to Barbie and Oppenheimer. Even the great Jacques Rivette, whom I consider to be as good a critic as he was a filmmaker (and who is definitely a role model for me!), said in an interview: “People who go to, say, one film every two weeks and tell themselves, ‘I will see the great films, but not the others, not the commercial movies,’ I think those people have no chance of really seeing cinema. I think that cinema is only accessible to those who accept that they must consume the ‘mainstream.’ On the other hand, the consumers of mainstream cinema who reject Duras, Bresson, Straub, or [Werner] Schroeter are also people who refuse cinema.” I would only add that nowadays there are more and more “operational images” (as Harun Farocki described them) that should be considered, in one way or another, to be a part of cinema and thus also taken into consideration. This is happening more and more, and not only in academic circles—didn’t, for example, J. Hoberman write an analysis of Jayden X’s video Shooting and Storming of the US Capitol in Washington DC?
My only so-called “guilty pleasures” are documentary recordings of extreme violence (which actually make me feel guilty, though there’s no pleasure involved—thank God). I force myself to watch all the ISIS videos I happen to encounter on the internet (without specifically searching for them) because I feel that I must know what beheading or burning of a live person looks like, and not look away—although I don’t understand how Jean-Louis Comolli put himself through this ordeal in order to write his book Daech, le cinéma et la mort (“ISIS: The Cinema and Death”).
In 2017, I shot a film titled I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians, which tells the story of a young theater director who stages a military reenactment of the massacre of the Jews of Odessa by the Romanian army and authorities in 1941. While preparing this film, I became a member of a lot of online closed groups dedicated to military reenactments. It was very useful, for my research, to watch videos of how these reenactments are done, and many of the community members were kind, sending me information I needed for the film. I am still part of some of these groups, and now, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they post videos from the trenches (I have no idea how they get most of them). I force myself to watch them whenever I have a bit of time, because I think it is important to see how horrific the Russian invasion is, and how the Ukrainians are defending their country. You cannot but be shocked to see so many young boys killed for nothing.
In one of the greatest films of last year, the archival documentary series Russia 1985-1999: TraumaZone by Adam Curtis, you can see how the mothers of young Russian soldiers went to the front lines of the Chechen invasion to convince their kids to desert and come home. Now Russia has degraded itself so much that such things don’t happen anymore: there are no mothers going to the front lines to ask their kids to come back. Sometimes I think all the idiots who relativize the Russian invasion in Ukraine should watch these videos. (Slavoj Žižek spoke beautifully against these so-called “pacifist” morons here.) Maybe some of them would change their minds, although the desire to relativize is so powerful, and ideology can take over anything. (At the Locarno Film Festival recently, I would have liked to see if these people could have looked Ukrainian filmmaker Maryna Vroda in the eyes as she, accepting an award for her feature Stepne, read aloud the names of crew members who had been killed by Russians, in some cases together with their children and families.)
Although I am not in favor of canceling the great Russian culture, since watching these videos, I have found myself unable to accept it. And this despite the fact that Russian culture is part of my cultural upbringing. I cannot watch Russian films at all anymore—how could one watch the films of Nikita Mikhalkov, this piece of shit?—and I find Dostoyevsky disgusting, despite his genius. Previously, I was a big admirer of Dostoyevsky, a truly punk writer when it comes to form and artistic courage, but I am more and more disgusted by his hatred of the Western world (as he contrasts it with Russia and its Christian-orthodox values). There is little surprise that in my country his books are viewed more and more in this light by conservative Romanian intellectuals. (The term “Christo-fascist” was and still is a very good way to describe many of these people’s values.) They spout simple-minded ideas like, “If you are an atheist, you will end up committing a murder, just like in The Possessed”—although I am an atheist and I have never killed anyone, while Putin’s murderous army is blessed by their Christian orthodoxy. So, until this dirty war ends (and only if it ends with Ukraine’s victory), I cannot read any of the classic Russian literature I have loved so much. I will try to make an exception for Chekhov—I had a film project based on some of his stories, though I renounce it now—and Mikhail Bulgakov, but I am not sure I’ll manage. If I am able to return to their work, that will be a guilty pleasure in the most literal sense of the expression.
But I have no guilty feelings about writing this here clearly: fuck Putin, the Russian army, and all his supporters!