There are things both decidedly fresh and decidedly rote about Eva Husson’s hot-under-the-collar debut feature, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) (2015). The premise and aesthetic offer nothing decidedly innovative, but this is an intimate and tactile take on the familiar sexual awakening of a group of white middle-class teens with too much time on their hands in one long hot French summer. Husson sketches teenage ennui well, and crafts complicated and watchable characters around which to base the core of her drama. The slip-up comes in a final act that bows out of the previously constructed conflict in disappointingly obvious fashion.
The action kicks off which an extended tour around a adolescent orgy. A voiceover – which ill-fittingly comes from one of the less empathetic characters – introduces the school holiday that saw the instigation of the titular gatherings. A pounding electronic score accompanies the camera as it glides incorporeally through rooms, taking in a plethora of sexual acts performed by hot young things of varying genders. “It all felt appropriately apocalyptic” says the voiceover, referring both to this summer of love and the spate of train crashes that incidentally pepper the background radio and newspapers. To their credit, the filmmakers do manage to evoke that sense once the parties begin.
Beautiful bodies are captured in golden sunlight but there’s somehow a pervasive ominous atmosphere that conveys that pubescent sensation of worlds being created and destroyed amidst the friction of lips on skin. Mattias Troelstrup’s cinematography will be recognisable to those that have seen similar films, but his close-ups are near enough to capture the flush on a cheek – both its shining colour and its radiating heat. This is most keenly felt in the tentative side-plot romance between George (Marilyn Lima) and Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre). George is originally the one who suggests the game of no-limits spin the bottle – or as she describes it ‘Truth or Dare with only dares’ – as though no one had ever thought of it before. As teenagers are wont to do, she is inflicting revenge on would-be boyfriend Alex (Finnegan Oldfield) and BFF Letitia (Daisy Broom) who are at that moment upstairs together in bed. From there, the ‘Bang Gangs’ become a regular occurrence, like slow-motion dreamscapes of flesh and sweat, while Husson also explores George’s subsequent position as social outcast. Unfortunately, the good work is blown by a final reel that sidesteps the interesting questions about underlying dislocation and root causes in favour of moralising. It’s a shame because for much of its run time Bang Gang manages to be an engaging treatment of teenage relationships – it just doesn’t know how to see it through.
The Toronto International Film Festival takes place from 10-20 September 2015. For more coverage, follow this link.