Toronto 2015 Review: BANG GANG, Teen Sex Without The Histrionics
At the beginning of a particularly hot and humid summer in a suburb in southern France, four teens, Alex, George, Laetitia and Nikita, find themselves bored, and horny (a combination of watching women's tennis and Sasha Grey) and in possession of an empty house while Alex's mother is off in Morocco. After a dare of an afternoon skinny dip rapidly evolves into Alex and George having sex in front of their friends, with the aphrodisiac of cameras and social media, it is not long before a large swath of the school join in on the fun. Hashtag #BangGang.
Director Eva Husson wants you to see the sixteen and seventeen year olds in the film as very sexual beings, and as the title implies, the film is rife with writhing young things experimenting with group congress, and rebellion. It borders on prurient (how could it not?) but it also seeks to avoid the usual hysterical moral-panic attitude that accompanies this sort of thing.
It demonstrates the naive cruelty that often comes out of these early relationship experiments, without painting anyone with a broad brush, and perhaps most shockingly, never victimizes the girls. Both 'cool girl' George and 'wall-flower' Laetitia walk into this whole situation willingly. And while they fight about their own friendship and trust, the sexual games are not of the date-rape variety; rather, they represent youthful experimentation, freedom, and the desire to be a part of something. We are in post-post-feminist waters, here.
The film changes points of view carefully, almost threatening to break the fourth wall at times, to reveal George can be just as shy and uncertain as Laetitia can be brash and bold. Tall Alex and and his red-curled buddy Nikita are neither homophobic nor homoerotic, just comfortable with each other. The girls are not just competing over the jock-ish Alex, but also over Gabriel, the younger boy who lives next door to Laetitia.
Introverted Gabriel (who also gets a POV) escapes his daily grind of helping his mother cope with an accident that has left his father mostly paralyzed, by making electronic music, courtesy of White Sea, the one-woman electronic musician who provides an enthralling electronic 'n brass inflected score. The newfound attention of the two girls brings him into their experiment with the other boys, which he does not approve of, but he is not so shy as to avoid participating.
The fever-dream of the sex parties, the quiet dying days of school, and the disengagement with their absent/present parents, are captured by cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup with an eye for both the amped up ethereal and the consciously mundane; both efficient and messy. In the background, there are reports of a rash of trains derailing around France, but they go unnoticed as teens record themselves with their phones.
Of course, with all the Instagramming -- and potential for pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease -- going on, things eventually come to a head. This is where Husson puts a unique stamp on a familiar type of formula. The teens are shown to be quite resilient at that age; they deal with it, and the audience should not be scared straight or any such nonsense.
George, Laetitia, Gabriel and friends move on with their lives. The internet and our culture of shaming is perhaps not forever, as we fear. We all move on with our lives. This a different kind of daring.