In the late ‘90s, in a small, broadly anonymous American town, something quite astonishing happened. Syphilis began to spread throughout the town’s younger population, something of an archaic sexually transmitted disease usually associated with the promiscuous intelligentsia of the late 19th century rather than contemporary school children. After the initial shock and a little digging by local authorities, the outbreak revealed the recent antics of the town’s disenfranchised youth: they had resorted to orgiastic meet ups to abate their daily boredom through unbridled sexual exploration – all fun and games until someone got a venereal disease.
A young film student at the time, Eva Husson took inspiration from this somewhat shocking real world event as the starting point for her first feature film Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story). Removing the story from its American setting, Husson transposes it to the sleepy south of France, replete with swimming pools, bourgeois convictions, and, crucially, bored teenagers. The result: a deeply alluring, oneiric and accomplished chronicle of adolescent sexuality.
We open with a frivolous fling between George (Marilyn Lima), a confident and cherubim school girl, and local lothario Alex (Finnegan Oldfield), whose mother has left him for 9 months unparented, working in Morocco. With an empty and considerably sized house at their disposal, the local school kids flock there for hedonistic parties, which quickly develop into adolescent romps, instigated by George in an effort to impress and entice Alex. Such bacchanalias soon grow in reputation and frequency, erupting at the drop of a text message: ‘Bang Gang maintenant! It’s now or never!’ Cue frenetic tableau scenes, pulsating with teenage sexuality, as the camera winds through a house of naked and drug-addled bodies, set to the tune of throbbing EDM music.
In homage to its original inspiration, events turn sour as sexually transmitted diseases begin to spread their way through the group, while choice videos of the proceedings winding up on YouTube for the world to enjoy. The reality of their behaviour hits hard; their previously inconsequential actions begin to spawn gruesome ramifications. Parents and schools begin to intervene, demanding that the entire school be subject to an STI test, bringing the period of intrepid sexual exploration to a definitive close. They return to their previous lives, with the impunity that their middle class upbringing affords them.
Bang Gang is undoubtedly an achievement, most emphatically thanks to its performances. Having scoured social media for teenage acting talent, Husson has managed to glean a troupe of incredible first time performers, whose on screen aptitude goes well beyond their relative lack of acting experience. Finnegan Oldfield embodies the bravado and primal character of Alex perfectly, whilst also brilliantly gesturing towards his character’s obvious internal fragility and loneliness. Lorenzo Lefebvre is similarly accomplished as Gabriel, the delicate outlier of the group, whose ultimate romance with George come the end of the film allows for some sort of agreeable resolution to what is a rather sordid debacle. It posits a rather reassuring message: our questionable teenage antics are not necessarily lasting, and we can in fact come out the other side unscathed.
In spite of its contentious content, Bang Gang is an uneventful film. Enjoyment may be tempered by the fact that the bulk of its material is dreamy shots of teenagers pleasuring each other. Mattias Troelstrup’s captivating cinematography keeps one engaged with the on screen action, in spite of its lack of diversity, but the narrative feels somewhat lacklustre as a result. It is, however, a mostly enjoyable and thought provoking cinematic experience, one which suggests great things from a first time feature filmmaker.
Words by George Washbourn