120 BEATS PER MINUTE/ BPM/ 120 BATTEMENTS PAR MINUTE, France, 2017. starring Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Antoine Reinartz, Felix Maritaud, Ariel Borenstein. Directed by Robin Campillo. 143 minutes. Rated MA (Strong themes, sex scenes and graphic nudity).
This is a film about AIDS.
It is a French film, screening at several festivals, winning awards including several Cesar awards in France, for the film and for performances.
The setting is the 1980s in France. It is the period when the public, especially in Western countries, was apprehensive about the rise of AIDS and its spread. It is a period when celebrities were revealed as both gay and as infected by AIDS, especially film star, Rock Hudson. There were demonstrations about AIDS and the role of government in responding to the health situation. There was a lot of study going on, research for cures for AIDS and some exploitation by pharmacy companies.
This film opens with a focus on a French group of protesters, ACT UP. They are quite vehement at their meetings, allowing each member to speak but being controlled by the facilitator, agreement being expressed by vigorous snapping of fingers. The film audience is invited to listen to the points being made by the speakers, the passion with which they speak, the effect of the infection and the consequent illness, issues of sexual orientation and behaviour.
The group also goes on various demonstrations, especially targeting politicians as well as invasion of the offices of the pharmaceutical companies, with containers with fake blood which they throw at parliamentarians or throw on the walls of the offices.
Some of the protesters work on organisation for protest and some kind of control. Others are impulsive, especially the young, causing repercussions with the police, with the media and public opinion.
At the initial meeting, the key central characters are introduced so that the audience sees them, hears them, is able to identify with them and/or to criticise them.
One of the most vigorous protesters is Marco (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), a young man from Chile present in Paris with some care from his mother. He is befriended by a newcomer, Nathan, and the two fall in love, living together, working on the protests. The audience sees quite a number of the characters, especially in their dealings with Marco and Nathan.
Eventually, Marco succumbs to the infection, becomes quite ill, hospitalised, then living at home with the care of Nathan and his mother.
Marco’s death and funeral bring the characters together, some kind of reconciliation, still some kind of antagonism between the various members of the protest.
While the film recreates its period, the audience is watching it with the knowledge of the history of AIDS in the succeeding decades, the toll that it took in terms of death and illness, the advances made in medical help, the overcoming of prejudice against AIDS and fear of any blood contact, the commitment of support groups and human rights.
Released 17th May
Peter Malone MSC is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film and Broadcasting.