For her feature filmmaking debut, French writer-director Eva Husson has created an exuberant concoction of themes that are equally timeless and eye opening. As much a feverish salutation to teenage spirit as it is a cautionary tale derived from a youth culture rife with Snapchat, digitised slut shaming and the very real combined dangers of underage pregnancy and STI’s, Bang Gang tells the story of George (newcomer Marilyn Lima), a pretty teenage girl who falls in love with Alex (Finnegan Oldfield). In order to catch his easily swayed attention, George initiates a game with their friends that requires pushing the boundaries of sexual interactions for optimum pleasure and mutual gratification.
It isn’t until the scandals of this increasingly popular game of discovery are revealed that the implications of their orgiastic endeavours begin to have undesirable effects on the lives of everyone involved. Very much a contemporary tale of lust and love, Bang Gang
is a simmering directorial debut that actively rebukes the trivialisation of similar topics found in mainstream fare. CineVue’s Ed Frost sat down with Husson back at the 2015 London Film Festival – where it was nominated for the First Feature Competition prize – to discuss the genesis of the project and how she mined her own adolescence for the story.
EF: Where did the idea for the film come from? Is the concept of a Bang Gang a real thing?
EH: Yes and no. There were a few actual news articles that I took the ideas for the film from. That was a starter for me, because I found it all so intriguing: the questions surrounding how something like this could happen. I come from a middle class background in a small area in Normandy, and this really got me remembering all the things that could have happened to us if we didn’t have those things to deal with like boredom and provenance – two big things! And sex is usually quite good at battling boredom, so I was very intrigued and just started writing in an attempt to understand all of this. I’ve actually recently heard that there were games very similar to this organised in middle class schools in Paris, which is crazy. What’s crazier is that I didn’t hear about it this time through a news article but by someone who’s daughter is in it! It’s a very curious incident of art imitating life, or life even imitating art in this specific case.
EF: As this is your first feature as a writer-director, were you consciously on the lookout for something to centre a film on, or did it come to you naturally?
EH: It’s a story I had heard about years before I had started writing about it, and it stuck in my mind for all that time. When I was looking for an idea that I wanted to develop, I realised that translating this to the big screen was going to be tricky to pull off, but the fact that it was so intriguing meant that I could stay with the project for a few years and really chisel down what I wanted to do and say with it. Granted it was a lot of time spent on just one idea, but I feel it was necessary.
EF: Though this is very much an ensemble affair, it features a predominant character, Alex (Oldfield) who is ostensibly quite an unlikeable guy who treats women purely as objects. Was this ever an issue?
EH: I think that Alex’s character is fundamentally two-sided; he may at first appear unlikeable, but that’s the very reason why I cast Finnegan for the part. You can’t really completely dislike him because there’s something tender and lost about him, and it was very important for me to show that side. A lot of the potency of Alex relied on the casting decision, because he’s just not been given the right tools and he doesn’t know how to behave properly, but he’s got good things in him – which is not like Finnegan at all. Sometimes you see that he tries so hard to do the right things with George at the beginning, but he just gets lost in his own lust. He can’t handle someone else’s emotions. As a woman and ex-teenager, I was quite intrigued just to understand that thought process amongst young teenage boys. How can you be charming and an asshole at the same time? I sort of made peace with a lot of teenage fears from my own adolescence.
EF: Did you explicitly mine your own adolescence and that period of time for the film?
EH: Oh absolutely. Alex is definitely written after a boyfriend I had when I was sixteen. One of the strengths of the film is that it doesn’t judge the characters or demonise them, but instead treats this orgy scene as a rite of passage, in a way.
EF: Was that an important concern for you both, having been there yourself, to make a film that doesn’t just paint teenagers merely as idiots, like many mainstream English-language comedies do?
EH: I think adolescence is this one time in your life when and you get to do extreme things and grow from them and not be judged, and it’s very important that it stays that way. It was extremely important for me that people acknowledge that these characters do in fact go quite far with this newfound culture, but that they gain something from going as far as they do, regardless of picking up some STD’s along the way – because that’s what’s going to happen. Everything can bounce when you’re in your teens, and there’s both an elasticity and beauty to that.
EF: Films about, and for, teenagers treat sex as just another form of comedy, especially in mainstream English-language fare that see sex as just another comedic rite-of-passage. Was that something you intentionally set out to challenge, the idea that it’s such an integral component to growing up?
EH: I think it’s because I was effectively a teenager up until the age of thirty-five, so it helps to take it seriously and question my own experiences of that time. I guess it’s a very serious time in one’s life, and I for one didn’t experience my adolescence as something that was extremely fun, easy or outgoing; I was quite lonely, always trying to fit in and didn’t really have groups of friends. I hadn’t seen that balance on screen before – teenagers in films are either really popular or real loners, and nothing in between. But people trying to be together and remaining alone while being together was something that was interesting to me, and in my experience I find intimacy in dual connections. I find that one-on-one aspect the most fulfilling interaction in life, so I wanted to talk about that.
EF: Was your cast comfortable with the amount of nudity and sex scenes required by the shoot?
EH: When you’re making a movie like this on the budget we had, you just can’t afford to get people who aren’t comfortable in their bodies, otherwise it’s as painful for them as it is for me and the filmmaking process. So, that was actually the first conversation I had with each of them after I had seen and liked them and found that we can relate with one another. Once we got going it became a lot easier for them, and Finnegan even said after one day of shooting that, having done one of the orgy scenes, he just had the greatest day of his life! It wasn’t easy for me at the beginning, because the orgy element wasn’t the most interesting part of the story and being surrounded by thirty naked teenagers isn’t a dream of mine! It was sometimes tough on set throughout the two-month production, but because we shot it all chronologically we could easily get back to living a much simpler lifestyle once it was all done.
EF: Do you feel like it plays differently to a French audience than it does an English-language audience?
EH: French audiences are hard to read and can be pretty stern. The Canadian audience was fantastic; they’re really open – I mean, they’re Canadian! I guess that they come to the room wanting to like the project, whereas French people come to the screening room a bit more skeptical and wanting to hate something. I’m more afraid of the French audiences than I am the other ones. They love to hate film; it’s like a national sport for them. I haven’t had people spitting in my face yet, which is always a good first step!
Ed Frost | @Frost_E