Eva Husson’s debut feature is a frank exploration of youthful attitudes towards sex and relationships. At its heart is an examination of the effect the internet and smartphone age has had on both intimacy and communication. That all kids have access to hardcore porn within a couple of clicks on a device in their pocket is the starting point of a story which asks, in a world where that is the case, what place has love?
It’s the summer and the wealthy middle class kids of Biarritz are bored and wanting something to fill the time. Husson’s suggests that the free availability of sex to view online teenagers will be open with their bodies and nakedness and quite happy to throw off convention and have sex in front of their friends. Photographs taken on smartphones during these sexual parties are then shared by those in attendance as a sort of souvenir of their free-form pornographic exploits. And certainly this kind of behaviour apparently happens in real life – although mostly journalists and anecdotal evidence suggests that this is generally led by boys pressuring girls.
In the film this orgiastic partying – the bang gangs of the title, are instigated by George – a girl who counter-intuitively is actually looking for love. She is attractive and sexually experienced. She keeps a chart of her past partners which is seemingly rated by an emotional response. The premise of the movie is an obvious generalisation; anyone who has been a teenager can immediately see it is an over simplification. Sure, teenagers have always been into sex – cinema is full of pubescent kids having sexual awakenings. In the world of the film the language the kids speak about sex is frank and explicit, as it ever was. But there are virtually no kids here who are uneasy about their bodies, none seemingly embarrassed or shy, or in anyway daunted by the perfectly sculptured and hairless bodies of pornstars and the mirror of reality. None ashamed to be naked in front of prying eyes. This is a clique of cool kids, who are all quite happy to drop their pants in front of each other for a laugh – and while it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that some kids would be up for this only one – Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre) – is not part of the clique at the beginning.
The film is narrated, after the events, by Alex (Finnegan Oldfield) – a nihilistic teenager living abandoned by his mother and looking after her giant house. He’s not interested in love, he’s just interested in conquests – filming them on his phone. Watching him watching a girl give him a blow-job on the screen of his phone rather than witness it actually happening below the lens firsthand it’s clear that Husson is commenting on how technology can add distance. Everyone in the film becomes simultaneously a participant and voyeur. And as every party, every Bang Gang takes place, they get bigger – running out of control and becoming more and more voyeuristic.
And this is where the film falters – all the way through the narrative suggests that something really bad happened. The story is being told to us as a reflection on events that have already taken place. As an audience we feel like the film is gearing up to a huge and possibly uncomfortably violent conclusion – but it never arrives. It’s like a clockwork mouse being repeatedly wound up, only for it to not go anywhere when released. Sure, no one comes out of the story unchanged and undamaged, but it comes across as a curiously damp squib.
The movie contains plenty of nudity and frank discussion of sex, but has been carefully shot to never be too explicit. Much of the cinematography by Mattias Troelstrup appears to ape the colouring and contrast levels of Instagram filters – which adds another subtle layer to the comment on online communication. It also makes the film very beautiful and stylised.
The acting from the mostly unknown cast is very good. Marilyn Lima as George is particularly worthy of note – she gives a performance which manages to combine confidence and vulnerability which gives an emotional centre to the film.
Husson directs her cast well, it’s just a shame the film feels structurally lacking – there is a sense that the script could’ve done with another draft to explore the ending and give it the edgier and more satisfying conclusion the narration has been hinting at. It feels like, despite making a story about an explicit subject, the filmmakers have been holding back.
Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) is out in UK Cinemas now.