Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) takes place over the course of one particularly hot summer in a small, middle-class French town. Based on a true story, the film follows four high-school students as they begin to experiment with sex and drugs. What starts as a playful lark soon spirals into heady decadence, as the teens and their classmates push the boundaries of excess and escalate their activities to dangerous levels.
BEV reporter Sonia Zadurian spoke to writer/director Eva Husson about enlightenment, classifications and creating a virtually adult-free environment…
The film is based on a true story. Can you explain how and why this particular story sparked your interest?
It’s a piece of news from 1996. I just came across it and the weirdness of it really sparked my interest. How do things get so weird? How do you go that far? I’m from a middle-class background from a small town, and we were bored, like all kids from that kind of background. We explored…not quite that far, but it’s very intriguing to me. When you’re a teenager, how do you find your limits? How do you build yourself up? How do you bounce back?
The film begins with a quote on enlightenment by Carl Jung: “One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” How do you see this quote relating to the film? And at what point in the creative process did you decide to begin with this?
I was reading and I just came across it. I quite enjoy Jung and the ideas he has on the feminine and the masculine; of archetypes. He has a perception of the world that I find myself close to; the idea that the only way you could build yourself and a sense of brightness in this world was to go through dark times. This really resonated with me. It’s certainly my experience of the world and my experience of finding who I am as an adult. My teenage years were quite hard and I certainly don’t feel that I’m a weird or dysfunctional adult because of that. I think I’m weird because I’m weird, I don’t think that it’s because I went through dark times!
You rarely see stories about teenagers who go through very extreme experiences and have them come out of it bigger, which is weird because that’s basically what life is. It’s very strange how storytelling and dramaturgy don’t seem to reflect life at all when it comes to that. Most of the time, things are very tragic; it’s death and the characters never recover, but this is just a straightforward lie. In life, everybody gets shit thrown at their faces; some when they’re teenagers, some later in life, but everybody goes through horrible shit and nobody ever gets spared. Most of us bounce back all the time and telling a story like that resonates with people who go through that.
I’ve had a lot of kids who have written to me to thank me for telling the story and telling me about experiences like that. I was very touched by that – just thinking that some people found some comfort… which probably is the best thing about storytelling and narration throughout the ages. Why do we still tell stories? It’s because life is frickin’ hard and we need to find comfort, catharsis, distance and echoes of our own stories, so when it comes it’s sweet and it’s nice. I guess it’s why some people do not respond to the film at all, because they just don’t have that relationship to the world… not yet.
You begin by introducing a risqué environment in a way that tells us immediately that this is the norm for these teenagers, but then you go back in time to show us how they got to that point. How did you ensure that the transition into this world felt so gradual? And was this something that you were very conscious of during writing and filming?
Yes, this was a big issue for me. It was excruciating. Talking about boredom in film is really not easy. I struggled so much with the first act because, for the audience to understand how far the characters go, you really have to go back in time to the beginning of the journey. I wanted people to understand that it’s just small things that happen, one after the other, and then suddenly you don’t even know how you ended up there. To be able to get to that point, I needed to show the whole journey and it was a slippery slope because at the very beginning I wanted to kill myself throughout the first 20 minutes of the film. It was slow! But at the same time, if you don’t have that, you don’t have the payoff.
The world of Bang Gang seems almost adult-less. Although we see glimpses of parents and teachers, the majority of the film takes place in a very teen-dominated environment. Were you very conscious of how much of an adult presence there was in the film?
That was a big part of how I wanted things and how I wanted to show things, because that was definitely my experience; I had parents who loved me and my friends’ parents loved them, but we’re from a generation that had to find our own limits because it was better for us to understand life this way. Our parents probably came from a generation where they had been given so many limits themselves. They had broken out of those limits early on but probably much later than they thought they had. I wanted to show that this kind of journey is a complex one because it’s very loving but at the same it has limits and if you don’t have a very centred personality… you can just explode in the atmosphere. I thought that was interesting, to have the adults just pop up when the kids realise they’re there.
As the story unfolds, we hear of a number of tragic rail disasters happening behind the scenes. The audience is shielded from this, only learning of the events through reports on the radio. What was your reasoning behind including this as a backdrop to the main story?
Well the train wrecks happened in real life, but not at the same time as that story. A lot of things have happened, but not together. The heat wave and train wrecks didn’t happen the same year, but did both happen. The syphilis outbreak happened as well, but I just decided to put everything together because I thought it was an interesting idea.
I guess my classical background also sort of plays a role. I studied ancient Greek at some point and in Greek tragedy you often have the world reflecting the inner turmoil of the heroes. I’ve always found that quite efficient dramatically. It’s very intense; suddenly you vibrate with the world. It happens in real life. Sometimes you’re in a very emotional state and the world seems to be leaving the same thing around you. It’s pure coincidence; of course the world doesn’t care about you, but it just happens that you’re like two trains on the same rail. I think it has an impact on how you remember a part of your life…maybe a specific summer that was insane and you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.
The film is rated 18 in the UK. Did you ever consider making certain cuts so that younger teenagers could see the film?
Well it was rated PG12 in France. I actually made compromises while writing and shooting, but to be honest they didn’t really feel like compromises because I never really wanted to go the frontal way anyway. I had to do more with cutting drugs in France than sex. If you mix too much drugs with too much sex and teenagers in France, you get an 18 rating, so I actually had to cut down on the drug thing. If I had done it my very own way, it would probably have taken more visual importance, not so much in the story but just showing it a bit more liberally. So I sort of paid attention to not putting too much emphasis on it.
For me, I would prefer the movie to be seen by more kids than less kids. I find it so utterly ridiculous in 2016 that a movie which has an actual story to tell gets rated, when you do one click [on the internet], you’re 8 years old and you can see as many dicks as you want. We had an argument in France because there was an association that wanted to rate the movie 18. I had a tribune in the newspaper that was published where I just said it makes no sense. It’s much more interesting to have a point of view on the world and to be able to watch it. Believe me, a 13-year-old kid who doesn’t feel comfortable with that kind of thing won’t go and see it. They just won’t. Some kids are more mature than others and I don’t think I’ve heard of many 13-year-old kids going to see the film in France. They don’t want to watch that, they want to see one porn image but not a whole movie. The rating wasn’t easy to get, it wasn’t a given thing – it didn’t happen just like that.
Bang Gang: A Modern Love Story is released theatrically in the UK on Friday June 17 by Metrodome.