Dir: Robin Campillo Writer: Robin Campillo | Cast: Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Yves Heck, Coralie Russier | 135min | Drama | French
Robin Campillo’s follow up to Eastern Boys is a cinema verite style drama that reflects his own years as an AIDS activist in the years of Mitterand’s 1990s government. It makes a brave and honest attempt to communicate the frustration felt by many sufferers of the disease through an organisation that calls itself Act Up.
120 BEATS feels quite conventional in style and clearly Campillo feels so strongly about the film’s themes that the he has decided not to be too ambitious artistically – the result is rather bland and overlong at 142 minutes but valuable as a lasting testament to the era, and a fight that continues. Most impressive are the naturalistic performances, particularly from Hanaele as the strong-minded Sophie and an evocative score with tunes from Bronski Beat.
The film opens with during a rowdy meeting of Act Up in a brightly lit venue where clicking of fingers replaces clapping as a signal of approval. The group’s members, not all sufferes, are encouraged to be vocal and expressive. There follows a raucous demonstration in the offices of a drug company refusing to release its test results. There are romantic interludes with rather overplayed graphic sex that takes place between the feisty young Chilean French Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), who has fully blown Aids, as he falls for HIV-negative Nathan (Arnaud Valois). Their relationship is only really examined in the light of Sean’s illness and none of characters is fleshed out enough for us to engage with their plight, which is a shame.
Artistically there are some inventive flourishes such as when the sparkles from the disco lights are transformed into the virus, and its clear from this that Campillo does not want to cloud his central message with aesthetic mastery. As a result the film is clearly heartfelt but lacks resonance in reflecting that to its audience. A missed opportunity then for something really meaningful on a serious and important subject. MT
CANNES FILM FESTIVAL 17-28 MAY | IN COMPETITON