Press screenings at the 59th London Film Festival got off to a flaccid start earlier this week with Eva Husson’s controversy-courting debut Bang Gang, a total turn-off that’s neither as lewdly subversive or as raucously debauched as its provocative title. Living out their own summer of love, a group of gauche high school students get together for private sex parties, which despite being directed by a woman, play to phallocentric fantasies of three girls for every guy. Bridget Bardot-lookalike George (Marilyn Lima) is the one who instigates a game of “Truth or Dare with only dares,” just to get back at uninvolved boyfriend Alex (Finnegan Oldfield), who, at that moment, is upstairs taking the virginity of her best friend, Letitia (Daisy Broom). But instead of being appalled, unfazed Alex blithely takes ownership of George being railed by multiple partners, assuming host duties for the subsequent orgies and literally becoming the cock of the walk.
Initially, classmates all strip off with the playful inhibition of just about any French film you might care to mention, but in the subsequent shuffling of body parts and soft-focus writhing, there’s almost no recognition of teenage logic—not one member of the Bang Gang is portrayed as shy or thinned-skinned, as almost any high schooler would be, standing stark bollock naked among their peers. At their age, everybody is trying to be something other than what they are, but if sexual liberation and nonjudgmental exploration enables the group to transcend the awkwardness of these years, then they never seem hungry for this experience. The somnambulist gaze of Mattias Troelstrup’s cinematography has no rapture, and the cast performs very much like the cool, closed-off, yet easily readable, adolescents of the movies, and not the volatile mood swingers of real life, far more earnest in their instinct for self-created drama.
It’s a total turn-off that’s neither as lewdly subversive or as raucously debauched as its provocative title.
Following the likes of Wetlands and Diary of a Teenage Girl, teen sex requires far more than a frank approach, the principal problem being that not enough of the film lives in the eyes of George and her classmates. As the camera floats, ethereally indifferent, past contorted bodies, the melancholic electro score by White Sea throbs despairingly when it should hedonistically thrust, and the formal exhibitionism of fourth-wall breaks and assorted voiceovers feels way more explicit than any of the sex.
Subtitled as “a modern love story,” the film is full of digital details that also seem suspiciously off, with a video of George giving herself to all takers finding its way onto YouTube and not some darker, more damaging corner of the Web, like the one in which porn star Sasha Grey is glimpsed during the early scenes, and from which the content cannot be so easily flagged as inappropriate and quickly removed. Offering no social critique of generation selfie, or much in the way of kinky thrills, Bang Gang has the unfortunate distinction of premiering during the 20th anniversary year of Larry Clark’s Kids causing a “cultural blitzkrieg” upon its release, and is unlikely to be remembered with anywhere near the same notoriety a year from now.
The BFI London Film Festival runs from October 7—18.