Writer-director Robin Campillo (Les Revenants, Eastern Boys) offers a harrowing yet inspiring look back at the activism of French ACT UP protestors during the height of the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s.
BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Best known as Laurent Cantet's screenwriter on a quartet of brilliant films — L'emploi du temps, Vers le sud, Entre les murs (The Class), and this year's L'atelier (The Workshop) — Robin Campillo also made a mark directing 2004's Les revenants and 2013's fascinating Eastern Boys, both of which screened at the Festival. He ventures back behind the camera — and into the spotlight — with this harrowing yet carefully calibrated look back to the height of the AIDS crisis in the early 1990s as it was experienced by a group of activists determined to shake up a sclerotic system ill-attuned to their demands for immediate research.
120 battements par minute centres on the French chapter of the protest organization ACT UP, and the dynamics, personal and public, amongst this disparate group of men and women affected by AIDS. At the fulcrum is Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, in a searing performance), a charismatic young militant who wades fearlessly into action, bolstered by the courage of his convictions. Campillo explores both the heart-rending reality of his characters' emotional lives and the group's collective struggle. Opposing positions are dissected while, simultaneously, friends succumb to sickness and time becomes an enemy, creating a sense of urgency and movement.
This is both an angry film and a tender one. It is also a magnificent tribute to a moment of selfless social action, when the gay community rallied together to fight the state, drug companies, and an indifferent public. Campillo has staked his claim as a director to watch with this superb third feature.