I suppose some people will be shocked by this French drama, given that it’s about a group of high school teenagers in Biarritz who – mainly due to sheer boredom – hold increasingly-popular and debauched sex parties, some of which are depicted in a fairly explicit manner by first-time director Eva Husson (well, there’s lots of nudity, anyway). The afternoon soirées are attended by impossibly cool French kids who take drugs, project porn onto the walls of an adult-free house and – after a spot of age-old favourite spin the bottle – film one another during the ensuing orgies. (This being a film about teenagers, somewhat predictably it’s not long before a boy uploads one of these videos to YouTube, resulting in the public shaming of a female character.) Husson presents her disaffected youth stylishly enough: there’s a cool techno soundtrack, the film seems to be set during the magic hour more often than not, there’s some subtle breaking of the fourth wall, and her DoP Mattias Troelstrup uses dreamy depth of field throughout. There’s a certain degree of complicity and vaguely-pervy viewer participation suggested by Troelstrup’s loose camera movement during the parties that brings to mind Larry Clark’s Kids, too, a film that’s also linked to Bang Gang by way of its subject matter. Additionally, and on more than one occasion, I also thought of Sofia Coppola’s pronounced visual style, as well as her beguiling predilection for mixing ice-cool detatchment with sudden bursts of empathetic warmth towards her young female characters.
There are several problems, though. Husson never quite seems to have the courage or conviction to let the film develop into the shocking portrait of teen lust and drug-taking that it clearly wishes to be. It promises to be frank and confrontational but oddly seems coy about certain issues: the decision by one of the main characters to abort an unplanned pregnancy is dealt with by a voiceover that’s less than twenty seconds long, while the sex here is relatively tame in an era containing explicit films by the likes of Gaspar Noé and Michael Winterbottom. It ends limply – apt given all the preceding rumpy pumpy, he fnarr-fnarred to no-one in particular – and at times it lacks depth, offering little in the way of fresh insight into modern teenage life in France; in fact at times it’s merely a glossy reimagining of the UK’s tabloid-baiting TV show Skins, with added glimpses of porn and writhing teenage flesh. Also, given how free and supposedly-accepting the teenagers are here, it’s perplexing that there are no party invites for any classmates who do not conform to a certain lithe body type. Lastly, the use of radio broadcasts about trains being de-railed – an obvious metaphor for the changes in the lives of these teenagers – induces weariness due to over-use. Still, Bang Gang isn’t a dud. Husson clearly has a pronounced sense of style, and there are some interesting elements to her story: I found it to be non-judgmental despite the various punishments – STDs, unwanted pregnancies, public shaming, etc. – the screenplay dishes out to the orgy participants, I liked the all-too-brief explorations of the relationships some of these teens have with their parents, who are either overbearing authoritarians or absent travellers, and a couple of characters are compelling, such as Marilyn Lima’s George and Lorenzo Lefebvre’s introverted Gabriel.
Directed by: Eva Husson.
Written by: Eva Husson.
Starring: Marilyn Lima, Finnegan Oldfield, Daisy Broom, Fred Hotier, Lorenzo Lefebvre.
Cinematography: Mattias Troelstrup.
Editing: Emilie Orsini.
Music: White Sea.
Running Time: 98 minutes.