Career journalist Andrew Bloomenthal has covered everything from high finance to the film trade. He is the award-winning filmmaker of the noir thriller Sordid Things. He lives in Los Angeles. More information can be found on Andrew's site: www.andrewjbloomenthal.com. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ABloomenthal
Thank goodness for French cinema. Not only does it explore behaviors we often do, but seldom speak of, but it has the guts to celebrate the darker corners of life – without apology or judgment.
In Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story (Bang Gang: Une histoire d'amour moderne), a group of fresh-faced high-schoolers push the limits of their sexuality, in a summer-long stream of orgies, that begins when a pretty teenage girl named George, falls in love with Alex, and initiates an escalating group game of sexual dares, to get his attention. As they ratchet up the frequency – and the invite lists of their sex parties, we can see the inevitable emotional fallout on the horizon, not to mention a pregnancy and an STD outbreak.
Thankfully, Bang Gang writer/director Eva Husson frames these consequences as experiential building blocks, rather than punitive sentences. Sure, the teens' parents offer a few obligatory finger-wags. But this is far from the gavel of judgment that would likely be brought down in an American film. Yet ironically, Husson's inspiration for this film was a real-life American scandal.
“I was inspired by a news story that I heard of in 1999. I was 22 at the time, and the people involved reminded me of my own group of friends when I was a teenager – the same type of small provincial town, the same middle-class social background, etc. This account of drifting into a collective madness kept on resonating with me, even years later,” said Husson, who spoke to Script magazine about her scintillating film.
Let's start off with a general question about French cinema versus American cinema. French cinema is by far superior...
...(Laughs) I didn't say that. Don't put words in my mouth!
Well there's such a beautiful untamed expression—sexual and otherwise with French cinema, which has much less rigidity around its storytelling. Why do you think that is?
Wow. That's a very hard question. It's hard to tell why. Maybe there's a cultural tendency [in France], to question the world around us, because honestly, it does require thought. I'm not sure I could elaborate beyond that, because it also depends on the genre of movie. I'm pretty sure you wouldn't say the same thing about French comedies.
Speaking of comedy, Bang Gang featured a funny little hamster that was stolen from a classroom, and then passed around, living with one teenager, then another, then another, until everyone had custody of the hamster at some point. Was there a metaphorical significance to this hamster?
(Laughs) You know, it just came out of a joke. My husband told me an anecdote: when he was a teenager, he stole a hamster, and I thought it was funny because that's just what kids would do. And then I realized that they can't take care of the hamster anymore, because they can hardly take care of themselves, so in that sense, it played a nice role in the film, where you see that the kids are not yet ready to be adults. But I didn't mean to put any profound meaning on the presence of the hamster.
Did a second unit actually film shots of the hamster, or were you there for those shots?
Oh no, I was there. I liked filming the hamster. Animals are always fun. And a lot of us have animals, so it's realistic to take care of little things, so it was actually nice to have it on set, as well.
Earlier, I was detailing a cultural difference between French and American cinema, but there was one theme that seems universal. Namely, the two girls, George and Laetitia, could be quite mean to each other. George says to Laetitia, “Alex thinks you're ugly, but it doesn't matter, because you don't like him,” which is a mean and veiled insult. Was there a deliberate attempt to have the girls challenge each other, the way American girls often do?
For me, it was about exploring that whole path of finding limits, because if you pay close attention, you'll notice that when George says that, she instantly realizes how hurtful it is, and she's not comfortable with that. She wanted to be mean, but she didn't realize just how mean she was until it came out of her mouth. It's that moment in adolescence where you realize that you can be very hurtful. I remember being mean to a guy, and to this day, I remember that moment – how mean I got. It's just part of growing up. It happens both with French teenagers and American teenagers, and it's not just girls. That conversation could have happened between two guys.
How did you go about blocking the bang gang scenes? There were a lot of beautifully fluid unbroken shots, that made you feel like a voyeur.
I'm not sure I would go with the term “voyeur,” because it's more about the subjectivity of the shot, and the idea was that [the viewer] is one of the characters discovering the events from the inside, whereas the notion of voyeurism puts you on the outside, and I wanted just the opposite. I wanted the complete immersion of the characters, and obviously the audience as well. But a lot of the choreography had to do with the space that we had to film in, and where the action could take place and where the extras could go. With limited space, you don't have one thousand options, but it works out because it's natural.
Everyone is so slim and fit in this movie. Is this representative of the entire French population, compared to Americans? Did you have to search hard for beautiful people to populate your film?
To be honest, I didn't specifically search for fit people, so I think you might be right, because generally speaking, [French] people are quite slim. But in the casting process, the people who came were probably more comfortable with their bodies, and more comfortable being photographed because they're slimmer. But it was not a conscious effort on my part. The film does have a couple of [bigger] girls, that we call “stronger” in France.
Finally, was there a freedom in filming nude scenes, or were the actors self-conscious and guarded?
Again, it was the casting. The first conversation I had with people was: “If you're not comfortable with your body, that's totally fine with me, but it's going to make your life miserable and my life miserable, so let's not even go there. If that's the case, let's not make our life complicated.” We cast people who were very comfortable, so the nudity was never an issue. And they were never naked during the casting process until the very end, when I asked them to do one regular scene, naked, so I could make sure they were as comfortable as they said they were.
Did you struggle whether or not to show a moral consequence of sexual activity, in light of the fact that a syphilis scandal and a pregnancy resulted from the bang gangs?
I'm really glad you asked that question, because my intention for the path of their journeys was the opposite of moralistic, and I'll tell you why. If the film stopped after the reveal of the syphilis scandal and pregnancy, it might have had that moralistic tone. But my message was the contrary, because I have the kids go through those painful moments, but then I show how life goes on. You can never just stop at the hurdles, and you can never stop at the things that are traumatic, because they end up constituting who you become. Like the Carl Jung quote said at the beginning of the movie, you have to go through dark moments, to feel the light in your life, which is important to me. So when some people think that the characters are being punished, I say the contrary. They're not being punished. Statistically, if 50 people are having sex together, you will have pregnancies and diseases, but it doesn't really matter. It's life. And when you're on your death bed, you won't remember the STD you had. What's going to matter is your whole past, and I don't know anyone in life who is spared a traumatic experience. It's what makes us who we are.
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