Robin Campillo’s fiery ensemble piece is set during the late 1980s, focusing on the Paris wing of ACT UP – the international direct-action organisation who demanded immediate, large-scale research into AIDS. “We’ll keep pissing the state off until there’s a real prevention policy,” says one activist early on. And so they do, taking on the powerful institutions of state and the pharmaceutical companies. Along the way, cracks become apparent in different factions within the movement: a more militant wing who demand more aggressive disruption and a more conservative element who are concerned such behaviour would essentially undermine the core message.
Campillo’s film follows the blossoming romance between newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois) and Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), a firebrand whose HIV+ status is rapidly deteriorating. Campillo brilliantly juggles the scenes of political action with the love story between Nathan and Sean as it works towards its inevitable final state.
120 BPM is clear-eyed in its depiction of a time of great tragedy, but active and engaging in the way it presents its politics.