Having sex with a lot of people at the same time is, inevitably, going to produce some complications. The teenage protagonists of Eva Husson’s debut feature discover this when they attempt to stave off ennui by playing Truth or Dare, an act that escalates into group sex and then into a series of regular orgies. Social media further exacerbates the understandable tensions that arise from their empathogen-fuelled swinging, as online documentation of their actions exposes them to classmates seeking to shame while also being titillated. Given the frankness of her film—and its provocative title Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)—it is not a surprise that Eva is equally forthright and unsparing in person.
What drew you to this story for your directorial debut?
I wanted something with subject matter that wouldn’t get lost in the sea of films. I understood that it was going to be quite important to have something that could grab people’s attention. That made me think about what kind of story could start a path for me in feature films. I had a pretty intense adolescence myself, not with collective sex but with drugs. I experimented a lot, as did people around me. We all turned out to be fine young adults with responsibilities and interesting jobs and I was keen on exploring what it’s like to go through something extremely intense that feels like the beginning of the end, but then you get through it, and you grow up and find your boundaries. In 1996, I came across a story similar to the film’s that stuck with me. I tried to find something else because I knew it was going to be so hard to finance, but I kept coming back to the idea.
The film is called Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story). What’s modern about it? Is it the way the teenagers use technology?
The part that’s modern is the context, which is what makes the story different from what it would have been twenty or forty years before. We live in the age of a revolution the same size as Gutenberg and printing, where the whole way we communicate has changed because of the tools we have. Everything teenagers learn is new and different now. They’re at the forefront of a wave, with tools that nobody has dealt with before. They don’t know how powerful, damaging or incredible they can be, so they’re making all the mistakes.
In your research did you speak to any teenagers about technology?
I observed them and how technology was affecting their way of communicating. I didn’t want to overblow a fad and make something bigger that it might be, but I realised that the principles of YouTube, Facebook and Instagram were going to affect a whole generation, even if the companies disappear tomorrow.
It must be difficult to balance depicting the film’s action without doing so in a sensationalistic way. How do you show a group of teenagers having multiple orgies and not make that look exploitative? It was a big question for myself. I tried to stick with what was important to the main character of that scene. At one point it’s the character Alex, for example—I stuck to what happens around him and how he feels about it. By sticking to the story, I tried to not be gratuitous about anything sex-wise because—honestly—I didn’t see the point. In 2016 you’ve seen everything you can see of human anatomy. In modern cinema, showing genitals is just useless; porn does that very well by itself.
How did you get all the actors comfortable with what they were doing? What sort of atmosphere did you create on set?
It’s not what you ask on set, it’s everything you do before. Casting was the essential thing. I worked on trust. The actors saw work that I’d directed and they knew that I wasn’t after shock value. I talked to every single actor beforehand so they would understand that I’d never make them do anything that would make them uncomfortable. If anyone wanted to stop it was their right, because my point was not to force anyone to go too far.
We rehearsed all those sex scenes with clothes on, choreographically, so that they would use their bodies like dancers. Where is your body in the space and how can you make the best use of that space? After that, once we were on set, being naked just added extra value to their performances.
The narrative of Bang Gang punishes the characters for having sex with whomever they want to: there’s one girl who contracts syphilis, is publicly shamed and then sent away to boarding school. Is it moralising for you to show teenage sex as ultimately having only negative consequences?
I think whether or not you think it’s moralising depends on how much you project onto the film. The majority of people tell me the opposite. They think that it’s not judgemental and that you follow what the characters go through factually, rather than in a moral sense. I would tend to go with that. If you sleep with twenty guys, statistically you’re going to get a STD. It’s a fact of life. There’s nothing wrong or good about it, it’s just there. Statistically, girls who have sex without condoms, a couple of them will get pregnant. For me there is nothing moralising about the film, it’s more about the difficulties you have to face in life and what you do with them.
You need understanding and sympathy because life is hard for everybody, whether you’re beautiful or fat or ugly. It’s fucking hard and everybody makes mistakes and everybody has a wall to hit. I wanted to see what walls they were hitting and how we could accompany them along the way. I chose characters who decided that it wasn’t the end of the world. They saw how much they could push their limits and now they’re on their way to becoming young adults. It’s heightened, but I think that’s the point of fiction: to heighten things so you can see better how life works. It’s another tool in navigating the complexity of human emotions, which are incredibly hard to understand.
Originally published in Oh Comely Issue Thirty.