This intense French debut blows away the cobwebs with its depiction of love and sex in the internet age.
Eva Husson’s vital debut joyously blows up simplistic judgements and adult anxieties with its candid portrayal of modern youth. In a seaside town in the south of France, the amorous entanglements between loner Laetitia, school beauty George and party boys Alex and Nikita, lead to the spontaneous creation of group sex parties with other teenagers. The full-frontal opening, a dreamy, fluid meandering among young bodies engaged in kissing, screwing, playing and drinking, drops us straight in the middle of one of their orgies. But what follows is not quite what might be expected from such a beginning: neither exploitative shocker nor critique of our pornified culture, the film is instead a complex, nuanced tale of love in the time of total sexual freedom.
That porn has an impact on young people’s views of sexuality is acknowledged; so is the pull of youthful hedonism. But the sex parties are prompted less by explicit YouTube videos than by a girl’s heartbreak. And the two most attractive and sexually active characters in the film, one male, one female, despite all the banging and the bravado, are ultimately looking for love in its different forms. These teenagers know everything there is to know about sexuality, but they are as maladroit and inexperienced as their elders when it comes to feelings and relationships. Countering media-inflated concerns about the effect of modern life on young people, Bang Gang affirms that the context may have changed, but growing up and negotiating your way through love and sexuality remains essentially the same: sexual freedom does not pervert love; nor does it make it easier, or more difficult, to find it.
Some of what has changed is for the better: the girls in the film are sexually liberated and are not punished for it. They openly like sex as much as the boys, and can be equally as unsentimental. Romantic clichés are sent up (the idea that the first time has to be special for a girl is comically subverted), and love can be found through the excesses of drugged sexual experimentation. And although love is ultimately what the film is about, libidinous desire is celebrated in itself, with the camera sensually capturing the warm beauty of naked bodies and the loveliness of physical intimacy.
The self-contained world of the teenagers, entirely cut off from the adult world, is perceptively, tangibly described. The importance of ambiguous, homoerotic friendships, the creation of a persona to hide emotional vulnerability, the wired energy that needs an outlet for release, are all keenly observed. But although the adults are largely depicted as either unaware or uncomprehending, Husson is interested in the teenagers’ relationships to their parents, who range from painfully absent to weightily present, and the way familial bonds inflect their behaviour. In this way, the search for romantic love that is at the heart of the story is intelligently inscribed in a larger nexus of emotional connections that includes friends and parents too. Fuelled by the acute intensity of lived experience, Bang Gang is an incisively frank, yet celebratory depiction of first love in the internet age.
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