Subtitled: une histoire d'amour moderne
End-titled: Inspiré d'une Histoire Vraie
"Well, I would say that my film is a very extreme version of reality. And it's a version of reality that 99% of young people in France won't recognise. However, that's why it was interesting to me. I thought it would be very intriguing to explore something that intense, that extreme."
--Eva Husson in an English-language interview for ScreenAnarchy
Released in 2015 to mixed reviews but a fair bit of acclaim, especially in Europe, Bang Gang also raised more than a few hackles and disputes over ratings, and led to more than a little hand-wringing and cross-Atlantic finger-pointing.
The true story, in fact, didn't happen in France. Writer and first-time director Eva Husson took her inspiration from events that occurred in an affluent suburb of Atlanta, Georgia in 1996. They were previously the subject of a documentary, The Lost Children of Rockdale County. A more nuanced and complex, if worrying, intersection of sexual behaviors than depicted in Bang Gang led to a syphilis epidemic and concerns about a community and kids these days generally. Husson moves the story ahead to the 20-teens and an affluent French high school attended exclusively by twentysomething models.
Reviewer snark and cinematic stylization aside, the film proves more grounded than one might expect. Yes, Bang Gang features an "extreme" premise. It includes both full frontal nudity and carefully-filmed sex, though almost never in the same shot. Despite some graphic scenes and a story centered on a teenage sex club, the film proves surprisingly sedate, often eschewing full frontal crudity for beautiful cinematography and some credible character interaction.
High school beauty and skateuse George (Marilyn Lima) amps up some familiar teen games at a drug and alcohol-fueled party, a move which furthers a rift developing with her scooter-driving and virginal meilleure amie, Laetitia (Daisy Broom). The situation escalates into a full-blown orgy. Alex (Finnegan Oldfield) and Nikita (Fred Hotier), the boys at the center of the "Bang Gang" create a site for people to privately share the footage they took. Apparently, teens are not only comfortable with group sex parties, they're entirely happy with being filmed and feel certain no one will unleash the footage on the internet. The boys also engage in some muted homoeroticism. The film never explores that too deeply, though, predictably, every party scene has at least one glimpse of lesbian activity.
Gabriel (Lorenzo Lefèbvre), an aspiring composer, displays the least interest in "activités de groupe." He genuinely likes George, and would rather, you know, relate to her as a human being first.
The situation develops in various ways and turns terribly problematic, with an STD epidemic and public censure, about the only aspect of the inspiring story that could possibly justify the film's claim to be "true." It does include several plausible emotional moments. The film concludes with an unrealistic, but not impossible, turn of events that tries to justify the film's subtitle. While Bang Gang avoids the over-the-top moralizing an American film on the subject might have, it doesn't intend to be free of value judgments. It does, however, like its confused principal characters, and presents them in a comparatively sympathetic, if not always clear, light.