Dir: Eva Husson
Bang Gang leads with its best feature. The first sequence of Eva Husson's feature début is essentially a music video that takes us hazily through an orgy - one of the Bang Gang parties thrown by 17-year-old Alex while his mother is away working in Morocco - but its queasy mood has a realistic feel of waking up the morning after the night before and finding that not everybody stopped partying once you passed out. It's also set, as much of the film is, to a brilliant electro score by White Sea.
Sadly, after what is at least a somewhat intoxicating opening, Bang Gang settles quickly down into going through the motions. Set over a spring and summer in which a group of 16-17 year old friends get together at a big house for parties full of sex and drugs, it wants to shock, but never comes up with anything that hasn't been done before, better and probably more explicitly. It would dearly love to be Kids for a new generation (not much of an ambition, to be honest), but it fails even to conjure any outrage, surely the most basic of the things it is trying to do.
The focus is split between five characters; Alex (Finnegan Oldfield) and Niki (Fred Hotier) basically run the parties; George and Laetitia (Marilyn Lima and Daisy Broom) are close friends whose friendship is tested by the thorny morals of the parties and Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefebvre) is an amateur DJ who lives across from Laetitia and clearly holds a torch for her. The problem is that, aside from the various combinations in which they come together sexually and the occasional problems this causes, there is little to distinguish any of these characters. Laetitia and George each go on very familiar journeys, essentially beginning the film as 'virgin' and 'slut' stereotypes and swapping places in the course of the narrative. Alex and Niki are even less developed than this; Alex the bastard with swagger and Niki the unpredictable kid who's up for anything. Gabriel is slightly better developed, and his evolving relationship with George, while sketchily drawn, gets the best from both and Lima, Lefebvre and is the most engaging character beat in the film. Overall though, these kids are dull company.
Even in the scenes in which the parties are still supposed to be fun, Bang Gang never translates that feeling to us as an audience. With Husson's camera drifting through a mass of writhing, but clearly choreographed, bodies the film loses any real sense of abandon. This undermines everything, we should be losing ourselves in these moments, just as the characters are. This works for the two and a half minutes of the opening sequence, but Husson never manages to replicate that feeling (though she does replicate the scene, with different music and to lesser effect).
It's to be expected that any film spending so long on activities that are still considered, at best, socially taboo, would try to have some sort of moral in the end, but it's a surprise when Bang Gang takes what feels like a rather hectoring turn. A twist in the last act turns it from a sweaty coming of age movie (though, as a critic friend observed, with the accent on the coming) to something closer a 1950's “Tell Your Children” film. Would that it were half as much fun.
Eva Husson's direction is a bit better than her screenplay. She does find some effective images here and there, but overall it feels a bit calculated and overly glossy. I wish Bang Gang had looked (and felt) a little more down and dirty. This feels like a first film, clearly personal, rife with problems, but there are glints of promise too, largely in the performances that Husson draws from the cast, which are generally better than her screenplay deserves. There are too few moments like the one when Laetitia, sitting on the couch next to her father watches a muted online video of herself having sex with Alex. It's a slyly and darkly funny moment, but also one that disturbs while developing Laetitia's character. It seems that this mix is what Husson is pursuing throughout, but she seldom achieves it.
Aside from the score, the cast is the main reason that Bang Gang deserves any attention paid to it. Marilyn Lima and Daisy Broom are striking presences as George and Laetitia, I'd like to see more of both of them in the future. Finnegan Oldfield can certainly play the bastard effectively and there's an appealing and evolving innocence to Lorenzo Lefebvre's performance as Gabriel.
Ultimately though, Bang Gang reviews itself when, having found out about the parties, one parent's reaction is “it's all so profoundly mediocre”. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to see if I can buy a White Sea album.