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There’s a moment in the new French film Bang Gang — yes, those words in that order — in which one of the male teenage protagonists hides at the bottom of a swimming pool. Not much seems to have changed since the days of Benjamin Braddock back in 1967 and that’s exactly the problem with this feature debut from French writer-director Eva Husson, which feels like it’s been assembled from parts of countless previous and often much better films looking at the intersection of sexuality and ennui for well-off youngsters.
The film’s attention-grabbing moniker, which comes with the ironic subtitle A Modern Love Story, and its sun-drenched perfume-ad aesthetic should help the film get noticed, though originality or insight aren’t very high on the priority list of this drama, whose forefathers include not only The Graduate and works of U.S. directors such as Larry Clark and Gus Van Sant but also the features of countless young French directors, including Husson’s peers and fellow female first-time filmmakers, Helene Zimmer (Being 14) and Delphine and Muriel Coulin (17 Girls). Locally, this will be released in January 2016, with offshore sales potential no-doubt only helped by the fact it is part of Toronto’s Platform competition and it features marketable young flesh.
To get straight to the point: The titular “bang gangs” are a type of swinger party that a group of high-school kids from the Atlantic seaside town of Biarritz throw whenever they get bored. Most bored of all is the dark-haired, perpetually moody Alex (Finnegan Oldfield, from the recent Cannes hit Les Cowboys), who’s 16 or 17 and whose divorced mom has left him home alone while she’s gone to work in Morocco for 9 months. Together with his buddy, Nikita (Fred Hotier), an open-faced, up-for-anything redhead, they don’t do much else besides hanging out, watching gymnastics or other suggestive sports on TV and trying to get girls to come over so they can have sex with them.
Two of their “victims” are the uptight, somewhat mousy Laetitia (Daisy Broom) and the blindly-in-love George (Marylin Lima, whose hair suggests that her parentage includes both Farrah Fawcett and Rapunzel). After some frolicking by the pool, with footage include the other kind of helicopter shot, George and Alex move indoors to make love (her perception)/have sex (his goal) and Nikita, already naked and still outside, where it has started to rain, suggests Laetitia come over and keep him warm. Much to Niki’s surprise, she says she “prefers to watch.”
Clearly, Husson hopes that audiences will feel the same way but the film sends too many mixed signals practically from the start. There’s an early voice-over by Alex that suggests he’s the protagonist, though over the course of the film, he barely changes and, as a young man, he isn’t confronted with some of the problems that the girls could potentially run into because of their promiscuous behavior. George is somewhat easier to identify with, since she’s willing to have sex but only as an expression of her desire to be with Alex, who has, to put it bluntly, very little interest in the person around the vagina he happens to be servicing. George’s actions all have the same goal: Make Alex fall in love with her (again) after that first time together, even if that includes coming to the boys’ bang gangs — “invented” during one drunken party night at Alex’s unsupervised abode as a sex-only version of Truth or Dare — and making out with other people in the hope Alex’ll become jealous.
If individual scenes or ideas seem to have been lifted from other films, there’s a conspicuous lack of overarching narrative structure or character focus. The film starts with what turns out to be a flashforward that has little narrative purpose and there’s a sense throughout that Husson and editor Emilie Orsini might have been figuring out in the cutting room how to cover up or repair what one assumes were originally screenplay flaws of such basic things as perspective — who’s the main character; what journey will they go on? — and tone. The latter’s often difficult to read, making it harder for audiences to understand the characters’ true intentions, such as when George and Laetitia drop in on the latter’s introverted, EDM-obsessed neighbor and peer, Gabriel (curly-haired cutie Lorenzo Lefebvre). George is convinced the shy guy’s interested in her, while Laetitia is dismissive even though they seem to have a lot in common. Or is she being ironic to try and deflect attention from the fact she does like him? It’s hard to tell, which makes it hard to care about what happens to this potentially intriguing trio.
If the film lacks clearly defined character arcs, or behavior that feels recognizable, it doesn’t skimp on atmosphere or style. As the temperature keeps rising outside — there’s a heat wave on — and petty crimes and accidents take over the local news, the sex parties also increasingly seem to get out of hand. Husson and cinematographer Mattias Troelstrup (Don Verdean, the upcoming The Forest) sinuously move their camera through the throngs of youngsters, who seem entranced and high on a combination of electronic music (the score’s by White Sea), drugs and each other’s bodies. Switching between long shots and extreme closeups, and also playing with shallow focus and slow-motion, the film often looks like a slick commercial that’s fully tuned into the surface sensuality of the protagonists even as it offers no clues about their emotional states or hints at their characters (the actors all look the part but don’t have much else to work with). Further reinforcing that notion is a late-in-the-game twist that feels like a moralistic deus ex machina and that precedes a terribly righteous ending that suggests that the audience cared for these characters all along. Just another teenage illusion.
Production companies: Full House, Maneki Films, Borsalino Productions
Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Marilyn Lima, Daisy Broom, Lorenzo Lefebvre, Fred Hotier
Writer-Director: Eva Husson
Producers: Didar Domehri, Laurent Baudens, Gael Nouaille
Director of photography: Mattias Troelstrup
Production designer: David Bersanetti
Costume designer: Julie Brones
Editor: Emilie Orsini
Music: White Sea
Casting: Bahijja El Amrani
Sales: Films Distribution
No rating, 98 minutes
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