‘bang gang’ is a visually stunning portrait of teenage sexuality
Director Eva Husson talks small towns, social media, and her sun-drenched story of teenage sexual escapades.
There are certain "where were you when" events that, if not always completely life-altering, are significant: the royal wedding, the overturning of Proposition 8, Kanye West crashing Taylor Swift's awards show acceptance speech. For Eva Husson, it was a small news item about a group of high school teens in affluent Biarritz, France, who held regular orgies in between doing their math homework and watching TV. It's not the type of thing anyone would forget easily, but for Husson the story felt personal as well as shocking. The director grew up in a small French town too, and while she wasn't familiar with swapping sexual partners like Pokémon cards, she did know the feeling of restlessness that often goes hand-in-hand with financial stability and geographical isolation. That news story is now the basis for Husson's first feature film, Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story, a sun-soaked, visually resplendent coming-of-age story set in the midst of an oppressive heatwave.
Bang Gang focuses on a group of five teenage friends. The two girls are George and Laetitia, a sexually aggressive skater and a mousy introvert who make unlikely BFFs. Their male counterparts are equally dissimilar, at least initially — by the time George's after-school swinger parties take off, it's no longer entirely clear who's the slut, the nerd, or the player. This — and Husson's determination not to cast moral judgement upon her characters — is what makes Bang Gang feel more honest and intimate than other scandalous portraits of sex-driven youths. The film has drawn comparisons to Larry Clark's Kids, but perhaps unreasonably. Both stories are products of the times in which they were written, and Husson's post-internet, post-AIDS crisis setting allows her to go in a completely different direction. i-D spoke to the director about her modern love story and the lived reality of being a small-town teen.
The film is based on a true story. How did you become aware of the story and what made it intriguing to you?
I just watched a lot of news, I guess — maybe too much. I came across that story and thought it was completely insane. It stuck in my mind, and years later when I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I just thought that the story bore some similarities to my upbringing. Middle-class people, small town boredom — kids were just trying to have fun and basically get more out of life that what they had been given. Except the difference between them and I was that in my high school we didn't go that far. There was never collective sex. I just wondered what triggered that. I guess it was out of curiosity.
The two girls, George and Laetitia, don't come away from their experiences completely unmarked. However, there is no moral judgement cast upon their characters. Why did you avoid going that route?
Because that's basically the reality of most teenagers' lives these days. That's now what happens when you go through adolescence. Most films about teenagers going through very heavy experiences don't let them bounce back, but that's not what we are really. In our lives, a lot of people do bounce back and they go through life, generally speaking anyway. As a guide, those previous types of stories are not relevant to this generation.
There is a lot of digital communication between the characters, and YouTube plays a large role. How does this help drive the narrative?
Digital communication helps a lot to facilitate that kind of behavior. The original story happened in 1996, and I think the social network was high school — you know, physically. I think now it was interesting to show that it could happen outside the high school courtyard because of digital social networks. But it's basically the same trends and patterns. I don't think it would have been very interesting to place the movie in a different time. Now there has been such a paradigm shift so it's more interesting to explore, and I was curious. The digital communication has changed what it's like to be a teenager.
The time setting does seem slightly ambiguous though. It's happening not in a specific year but around these crazy news stories of heatwaves and train crashes. What did those things represent to you?
The time is purposely a little ambiguous. I sort of created a fictional time where the weather is crazy and the trains go crazy, and it was a sort of wink to all those years when each of us was a teenager and there was something very special that happened in the outside world that reflected our inner turmoil. I think this is also relates to my classical studies and the Ancient Greek line of thinking that associated adolescence with emotional turmoil.
The slutty/prudish labels affixed to the girls at the beginning start to become less defined as the plot develops. It's then a fifth character — an introverted boy who makes electronic music in his bedroom — who's the outsider.
It comes back to what it is to be a teenager. One minute you can be one thing, and the next minute you can become something different. Everything collapses every month or every two months. Your best friend suddenly becomes your enemy, and then becomes your frenemy, and your world is upside down. George and Gabriel, the two who are madly in love at the end, are probably going to fall out of love at some point — and that's okay. We're not all going to live happily ever after. It's not about that.
Text Hannah Ongley
Photos courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films, LLC