20 Jan 2017

52 films by women: #2 Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

From Widescreen, 9:31 am on 20 January 2017

To enjoy a new film by a female director every week you sometimes have to look beyond the multiplex, writes Dan Slevin.

One trusted source for films by new women directors is the Alliance Française French Film Festival.

They have been drip-feeding film fans with information about their 2017 programme ahead of a full reveal at the beginning of February. Yet it is a film that played last year that is my second in this project.

Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) is a coming-of-age story set in the south of France and, like Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring, based on a scandalous true story about teens going off the rails. During a long – hot – summer, beautiful young people take advantage of absent or distracted parents to get up to mischief, specifically sex and drug-fuelled parties that are subsequently, and disastrously, shared on social media.

Sold as much more salacious than it turned out to be – while there is a great deal of perfect youthful skin on display it’s mostly of backs and thighs and debutante director Eva Husson’s camera refuses to linger longer than a moment or two – what we have is another version of a film the French have been making for decades, with a twist or two.

What seems at first to be an invitation to titillation – that title! – is actually a sensitive morality tale in which everyone is a victim (to some degree) in a situation that gets out of hand.

The female characters are well-drawn and distinctive. Husson cleverly chooses to introduce the slightly mousy, shy one (Daisy Broom) first before focusing most of the film on the more confident blonde (Marilyn Lima), who in a different film would have been the antagonist rather than the protagonist.

Similar subtle inversions abound, and what I liked about this film the most was the fact that we got inside all of these tiny little immature heads without resorting to the high drama and emotional manipulation of Abdellatif Kechiche’s acclaimed but awful Blue is the Warmest Colour.

Lorenzo Lefebvre (Gabriel) and Marilyn Lima (George) in Eva Husson’s Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story)

Lorenzo Lefebvre (Gabriel) and Marilyn Lima (George) in Eva Husson’s Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) Photo: Full House

Director Eva Husson studied at the American Film Institute. When asked by IndieWire if she had advice for other women filmmakers, she said, “Be bold. Own your womanhood, on set and during the process. On the first day, I warned my crew that I cried a lot, that it was just a way to blow off steam for me and that it didn’t mean anything. It never became an issue. There are hostile environments for us as women. Don’t stay stuck in them; go around them. There are people and institutions who make us better women, better directors. Seek them out. It might take time, but it will be worth it.”

One reason for jumping to Bang Gang (A Modern Love Story) early in the project is that for New Zealand audiences it will soon be quite hard to find. Since the French Film Festival sessions last year it doesn’t seem to have found theatrical or home video distribution here.

I wouldn’t normally focus on something you can’t see legitimately, except in this case the film is screening at the online arthouse streaming service Mubi until 12 February 2017.

Mubi has a unique business model in that they only ever have 30 films a time on the site and every day one drops off and another arrives. For viewers interested in diving a bit deeper into art films from all over the world and many different eras, a subscription to Mubi is well worth it.

Another French film from a first-time female director is Danielle Arbid’s Parisienne, which arrived on Mubi yesterday (Thursday 19 January) and will be around for about four weeks. That's next week’s edition sorted, then.

#52filmsbywomen2017 is a project encouraging film lovers to seek out and enjoy films made by women. Dan’s rules for himself are that the films have to be new (to him) and fiction features. He will post one new review each week throughout 2017.