120 Beats Per Minute
Stars: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel
This rich and sprawling drama from French writer-director Robin Campillo chronicles the inner workings and campaigning of AIDS activist group ACTUP in 1990s Paris. At this time the French government had committed to helping AIDS sufferers, but had been sluggish in releasing the then life-saving drugs, making this literally a life and death matter for some of the members.
The different factions in the organisation are set out in an opening sequence in which activist Sophie (Haenel) attempts to stage a peaceful protest at a pharmaceutical conference using balloons filled with blood coloured water. But her protest is highjacked by the more militant member Sean (Biscayart) who handcuffs himself to the attendees.
Twenty-six year old HIV negative Nathan (Valois) joins the organisation just as they are debating the efficacy of the protest. Despite initially being ridiculed as naïve by members of the group, Nathan begins a passionate affair with the hot-headed Sean.
Campillo, who co-wrote the excellent 2008 French school drama The Class, once again displays his knack for presenting detailed and prolonged debates as the stuff of high drama.
These wordy sequences are balanced with extended scenes of tender eroticism between Sean and Nathan, and transcendent, ecstatic moments in the club where the members put aside their differences and lose themselves in the pounding beats. Sweeping but measured, passionate but thoughtful, irreverent but serious, this is immersive and essential cinema