The opening shot pretty much tells you what you should expect in Eva Husson’s debut feature film Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) which was part of this year’s official selection for Rendezvous with French Cinema (and one of the few I was unable to attend to, preferring instead to stick with the more ethnically diverse Dheepan and Fatima, among others). We see a dizzying array of young teens seen in an increasingly complex yet mesmerizing combination of sexual poses lounging around a country manor followed by the voice of the narrator, Alex (Finnegan Oldfield, also seen earlier in Neither Heaven or Earth and the upcoming Les Cowboys) starts with his voiceover narration that then flashes back to how “the summer of Bang Gang” came to be.
Turns out, Alex lives in this sumptuous house alone with his absent mother who is somewhere in Morocco. He and his friend Nikita who also rooms with him meet up with two schoolgirl friends Laetitia and George. Alex sizes up Laetitia to be ugly solely based on her looks (she’s a demure brunette) while he sexes it up immediately with George, a frail Bardoesque blonde. Nikita and Laeitia don’t seem to have a lot of chemistry with one another and remain in the sidelines. Even so, the foursome come up with creating the Bang Gang at Alex’s house — drug-infused sex parties where everything goes and all from school are welcome to let loose. At the fringes of the foursome is another schoolboy, Gabriel, a loner who has a thing for composing synth music.
The somewhat meandering plot takes some interesting turns. Alex and Laetitia ultimately hook up in the middle of one of his sex parties where he tells George to leave (she doesn’t, not immediately, as the sex her mode of escape and validation), but the girl’s friendship fractures and remains so. Party after party happens until the balloon breaks and George, who by now has become ferociously promiscuous, falls ill with syphilis.
I have heard comparisons to Kids but other than the ages of these teenagers I don’t quite see it. Eva Husson’s movie treats the subject matter rather casually, without shock or titillation, but she also doesn’t lambaste your eyes with it to a point that it almost becomes unwatchable. Quite the contrary, there is enough drama between all of the characters to keep the story moving. There is a constant of either a remote parent, as in the case of Alex and Nikita, or parents who are somewhat distant or at odds such as with Laetitia and George. Gabriel’s father is shown in one scene to be disabled.
Of the characters I found Laetitia and George to be a lot more complicated than what their looks entail. Laetitia presents herself as a virgin at the start of the movie and even when we see her having sex with Alex, later on, when she has to reveal her sexual history, she continues to reaffirm she;s a virgin (which backfires badly in more than one way). George, apparently charming and confident is actually quite vulnerable and as her character disappears midway through the movie (while Alex and Laeitia are dating and hosting) only to reappear ready for self-destructive debauchery, she has one quick scene that establishes just how insecure and lonely she is. Right after she catches Alex with yet another girl — this time a blonde (we only see the back of her head) she seems to go into a sad haze. Seconds later the music fills the space of the action and she’s diving forward into the demise of her own reputation.
I do think that the way Husson chose to resolve the story was both good — every character’s storyline gets wrapped up in the end — but at the same time, it happens too cleanly. To me, it seems as a slight afterthought that a pill and an injection, as one character mentions, can take it all away and while today’s advances might make it surely possible it also defuses a little of the consequences of such debauchery. Even so, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) is a sharp debut that serves as a cautionary reminder that a moment of sexual pleasure can forever, through disease and YouTube, create a tidal wave of consequences that will forever haunt a person.