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Original title: Bang Gang (une histoire d’amour moderne)

D: Eva Husson / 94m

Cast: Finnegan Oldfield, Marilyn Lima, Lorenzo Lefèbvre, Daisy Broom, Fred Hotier, Manuel Husson, Olivia Lancelot, Raphaël Porcheron, Tatiana Werner, Olivier Lefebvre

Eva Husson’s debut feature, set in the world of Biarritz high-schoolers, could be described as a French reworking of Fight Club (1999), but with sexual activity instead of fighting. What’s the first rule of Sex Club? Answer: nobody talks about Sex Club! This may sound like a trite way of approaching the movie but it’s hard not to draw parallels with a number of other movies that focus on teens and the troubles they have in negotiating that dread period of time between being a teenager and becoming an adult. Here, the teens are predictably bored, listless and lacking in ambition (except for Gabriel (Lefèbvre), who creates his own music). Alex (Oldfield) has his mother’s house all to himself and has decided that conspicuous hedonism is the way forward; he’s aided by his friend, Niki (Hotier), who’s a little dorky but not as arrogant as Alex. Best friends George (Lima) and Laetitia (Broom) have little experience of the opposite sex, though both are curious to learn in their separate ways. Gabriel, meanwhile, is Laetitia’s neighbour, something of a loner, and attracted to George.

Thus the movie is ripe for exploring the tangled relationships that only horny and confused teenagers can endure, and the inevitable fallout when things start to go irretrievably wrong (as it does here, when their school is forced to implement a particularly embarrasing round of health screenings). But the movie doesn’t quite manage to make any of the characters’ predicaments anything more than perfunctory. The sex parties (which begin innocuously enough with games of spin the bottle) include drug taking as well, and participants are allowed to take photos or record videos of what goes on, but only for future sharing within the group. Of course, this lasts about as long as it takes for George and Laetitia’s friendship to crumble when they both sleep with Alex, and soon the widespread knowledge of the group’s activities causes further problems, but for the most part, these teenagers are still as bored, listless, and lacking in ambition as they were at the beginning. Does anyone learn anything? It’s hard to tell, not even if the lesson is simply to avoid getting involved with sex parties, and Husson’s script strives for meaning far too often and without providing any answers.

That said, the performances are engaging and acceptably fearless, with Lima a stand out as the emotionally compromised George, a character whose injured self-esteem leads her into wanton behaviour that undermines her self-esteem even more. But Husson doesn’t seem able to make anyone truly sympathetic enough for the viewer to identify with, and the whole sorry mess that the sex parties engender is best summed up by Gabriel’s father (Husson) as, “…so profoundly mediocre.” This extends to the parties themselves, which provide tame examples of the kind of “action” that would be taking place, and which for all the “freedom” that is on display, is content to show females kissing and getting together, but not males doing the same (are there no gay teens in Biarritz?). It’s a movie that also feels lightweight in terms of any social or sexual subtexts, and there are frequent allusions to train wrecks on the local news that offer clumsy counterpoints to the derailment of normal teenage behaviour taking place at Alex’s house. All in all, the movie struggles for relevance, and tells its story in too mundane a fashion for it to strike any chords – even amongst teenagers.

Rating: 5/10 – not as controversial as may have been intended, and not as fascinating as the scenario could have been, Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) offers a glimpse at a world that seeks to flout traditional rules of propriety, and without any long-term consequences; all wrapped up too neatly, Husson’s feature debut reveals a director with a certain visual flair but who needs to be aware that narrative loopholes – of which there are several – can hinder the success of any project.