BFI London Film Festival: 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)

120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
120 Battements par minute
Directed by Robin Campillo
Starring Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Antoine Reinartz, Felix Maritaud, Ariel Borenstein, Aloise Sauvage, Simon Bourgade, Medhi Toure, Simon Guelat, Coralie Russier, Catherine Vinatier, Theophile Ray, Jerome Clement-Wilz, Jean-Francois Auguste and Saadia Bentaieb
Screening at LFF October 7th, 10th, 2017

by Joanna Orland

Death is a part of life, but for the those diagnosed as HIV-positive in the early 90’s, death was an imminent part of life; an inevitable fate rushing towards them, taking their friends one by one. A powerful account of AIDS activist group ACT UP in Paris in the early 1990’s, 120 BPM was deservedly awarded the Grand Prix at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. Screenwriter turned director Robin Campillo brilliantly draws from his personal experience to tell the story, with a vibrant ensemble cast and a harrowing portrayal of a modern day plague.

The film doesn’t waste any time as it begins by flashing between an ACT UP protest and one of their weekly general meetings. New recruits are welcomed, and the meeting rules revised for their benefit and ours. The bulk of the action takes place in these meetings, but protests and pride parades provide a counterbalance to their debate to show the group in action. The human thread of the story comes from two of the group’s members – new recruit Nathan who is HIV-negative, and founding member Sean whose health is swiftly declining.

120 BPM does not shy away from portraying the graphic nature of living with HIV and AIDS. Uncomfortable scenes from both an emotional and physical angle give the film an urgency; distressing to watch and undoubtedly much more distressing to have actually lived through. The ensemble characters of ACT UP offer a range of perspectives; each with their own story, voice and views on the sociopolitical situation. As Sean and Nathan become the main focus, you almost long to know more about the others; who serve as an ode to the collective community and cause, rather than as characters in their own right.

As passionate as this film is about activism, life, humanity and standing up for a cause, it does lack in positivity. There are a few key moments where this film could have ended, wrapping up on an inspirational note. Instead, the film drags out the more harrowing graphic morbidity of the AIDS epidemic, leaning towards a morose outcome. The devotion of these activists to their cause is truly where the heartbeat of this film lies.


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