Husson uses the film to uncover not just pretty bodies but some sort of truth.
Teen characters having sex in film is hardly shocking. Not even the title of Eva Husson’s directorial debut, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story), is as titillating as it was surely meant to be after years of countless young bodies having been exposed on screen. Even Disney stars have found the best way to shed their baby cheeks is to shed their clothes, as Zac Efron did in That Awkward Moment and Vanessa Hudgens in Spring Breakers. The French-language film Bang Gang makes a point not just to expose the bodies and rabid sexuality of post-pubescent youths, it examines the psychological foundation that drives these young bodies into each other’s arms.
Bang Gang tells the story of a group of French teenagers, played by some truly remarkable talent, who start an orgy club in an old, dark country house in the midst of a heatwave. The house is the residence of Alex (Finnegan Oldfield), whose mother has left him alone for an extended period of time while on a trip for work. This naturally leads his to then become the party house. The exquisite nature of the massive home makes the kids holding romps in its rooms even more juvenile. The events are named “bang gangs” because, as one character puts it, “It’s like a big bang, all this magic exploding.” Over the course of the bang gangs, the camera moves in and out of rooms, some in which explicit sexual acts are being performed, others where video games are being played. The age of these characters is never lost on the audience; Husson won’t let you forget.
At the start, the characters feel easily identifiable by their basic, stock-character tropes. There’s the slut (George), the virgin (Laetitia), the loner (Gabriel), the player (Alex). As the film progresses, these characters begin swapping roles almost as frequently as they swap spit. Laetitia (Daisy Broom) gains sexual experience and replaces George (Marilyn Lima) as Alex’s plaything. Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre) goes from inhabiting few spaces – save his bedroom and his electronic music dance den – to being the one to make a public stand for George when videos of her at the bang gang surface on YouTube. Alex is seen in bed with multiple girls, yet it doesn’t take long to discover he is the loneliest of them all.
When the film shows the teens in their homes, away from the pressures of their peers, their personalities come into focus. Laetitia sits on the couch and pulls up the video of her having sex with Alex on mute while her father sits a cushion away. Her need for thrill is awfully unsettling. Alex floats on a raft alone in the center of his pool, chatting with his mother on the phone who is calling from Morocco. His isolation and abandonment issues come alive with the crisp visual. In a small stall George showers his handicapped father. After images of taut young bodies have graced the screen for so long, this moment presents a body in decay. It also serves as a reminder of what true intimacy looks like. These small scenes are the most effective at calling for empathy for these young characters. They aren’t participating in these extreme activities out of boredom but out of loneliness and fear and desire for some kind of connection with another human. What is terrifying is that these are not feelings that go away with the end of a heatwave or the transition into adulthood.
Just as adolescence does not last forever, neither do the bang gangs. The most realistic moment of the film comes when George discovers she has an STD. The entire school must be tested and the way the teenagers handle the situation shows them at their most mature. There is not a question of whether or not these kids have transitioned into adults at the close; they most certainly have not. But there is a sense that they have grown and developed, some into independence and some into comfort with real versions of themselves. The film has its distractions – the occasional bizarre moments of characters looking straight into the camera and flashes of news stories about train derailments that offer little to the understanding of the story – but never loses its momentum. What Husson creates along the way is a visually stunning narrative about an extreme case of what loneliness can breed. Thankfully she uses the film to uncover not just pretty bodies but some sort of truth.