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120 battements par minute

(Beats Per Minute)

France's Official Selection for Best Foreign Language Film of 2017

Writer-director Robin Campillo’s deeply effective Beats Per Minute is half sober and surveying docudrama, half wrenching personal illness narrative. Those two genres are fused together with an arresting artfulness, woozy and dreamy interludes mixing with the talky technical stuff to create a film that is broadly enlightening and piercingly intimate. And it’s a vital contribution to queer and political cinema, a testament to crusaders of recent history whose nobility does not preclude their complicated and individual humanity.

Campillo depicts a panorama of Parisians, many of them HIV-positive, as they strategize and bicker at ACT UP meetings, and as they dance and hook up and live lives as fully as their bodies will allow. The film’s approach to sex is admirably frank and even-handed, allowing for all its beauty and danger, its capacity for release, for connection, even for protest. One long, hushed bedroom scene in particular is downright stunning, a potent reminder of how rare it is to see this kind of physical and emotional exchange between gay people rendered so richly, so viscerally on film.

Poster art for 120 Battements par minute (Beats Per Minute)The organizing scenes hum with an urgent energy. Campillo is unafraid to show schisms and infighting, rashness and stubbornness. Many of the men and women involved in the cause were dying as they demonstrated and campaigned, and Campillo expertly illustrates how their idealism warred, or commingled, with a kind of pragmatic fatalism. It’s both devastating and heartening to watch, these horrifyingly young people bravely confronting vast and seemingly unmovable systems – government, pharmaceutical companies, etc. – while attending to their own fears, their own fragile mortality.

The standout among the performers is the magnetic Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, who plays a brash, fiery activist named Sean with breathtaking conviction and clarity. As Sean’s illness gradually catches up to him, Biscayart maneuvers vast emotional terrain without losing sight of the person navigating it all. He doesn’t grandstand or awards-clip emote. He instead fits beautifully into the textured restraint of Campillo’s film, especially in one tender and bittersweet scene in which Sean and his lover, Nathan, accept the inevitable while also defying it. Nathan is played by Arnaud Valois, a young actor who proves a persuasive, sensitive performer, capable of striking vulnerability. The whole cast is great, really, natural and vibrant and fluidly in step with one another.

The film’s political and moral weight should not overshadow the artistry of its design, though, nor the quiet profundity of its unreserved and admirable approach to gay intimacy. Campillo has given his movie the breath of true life. It grieves and triumphs and haunts with abounding grace and understanding, its heartbeat thumping with genuine, undeniable resonance.

– Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair

Coup de massue, Robin Campillo agite un souvenir pas si lointain du début des années SIDA. A l’époque, on prenait ce groupe Act’Up pour des militants qui usaient de méthodes peu conventionnelles. C’est en regardant 120 battements par minute qu’on en voit les coulisses. On prend alors conscience que les opérations du mouvement étaient nécessaires pour attirer l’attention du public sur une cause ignorée. En effet, derrières ces activistes, il y avait l’urgence de nombreux malades dont les jours étaient comptés. En face, la réponse des dirigeants politiques était la pure ignorance, tandis que les laboratoires pharmaceutiques prenaient leurs temps pour sortir la molécule miracle de guérison.

Activists break into the labs of a pharmaceutical company in 120 Battements par minuteOn ressent cette urgence dans 120 battements par minute. À l’image du titre, on est pris dans un rythme effréné. L’œuvre est autant une proposition politique qu’un parcours de vie d’un malade. Si la première partie du film est principalement dédiée aux actions de Act’Up, on bascule peu à peu dans une lutte pour la vie de Sean, une lente agonie bouleversante.

La liesse est totale quand le cinéaste filme ses protagonistes en boîte de nuit sur fond de musique électro. Comme en trance, ils ont l’air d’oublier tous leurs problèmes. Pourtant, dès l’instant d’après, les douleurs reviennent. D’un saignement de nez aux traitements hospitaliers, rien ne sera caché dans 120 battements par minute.

Mais la force du film ne serait rien sans la prestation bleuffante de Nahuel Pérez Biscayart (Grand Central). Son personnage Sean est emprunt d’une caractérisation à la Xavier Dolan dans J’ai tué ma mère. Avec son coéquipier Arnaud Valois (dans le rôle de son amant Nathan), ils nous tirent les larmes tant leur couple à l’écran est touchant. Adèle Haenel restera parfaitement en retrait laissant la place à ces deux jeunes talents.

120 battement par minute a la stature d’un Philadelphia français. Si le combat était souvent perdu pour les malades dans les années 90, le film nous rappelle tout de même que la guerre n’est pas encore gagnée. La lutte contre le SIDA reste aujourd’hui primordiale.

– Antoine Corte, Bulles de culture

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