Glass reviews … 120 Beats Per Minute

ROBIN CAMPILLO’S French AIDS drama is a reminder of the devastating impact the disease has had and a celebration of the progress that has been made in tackling it. Set in the early ‘90s, 120 Beats Per Minute follows the activists, who are a part of ACT UP Paris, as they demand the government and pharmaceutical companies take action in the fight against AIDS. The narrative is fiction, but director Campillo drew upon his own experience being a part of ACT UP Paris.

After watching the spine-chilling trailer featuring a remix of Bronski Beat’s classic gay anthem Smalltown Boy, I had very high expectations for the movie.

120 Beats Per MinuteFrom 120 Beats Per Minute. Image courtesy of Playtime

The beginning of the narrative mainly focuses on the activists as a group, their meetings and their protests. This includes storming a pharmaceutical company office with balloons filled with fake blood, demanding it release its HIV medication trial results immediately and interrupting classes in a school to hand out leaflets and inform teenagers about HIV prevention. Later the focus shifts onto the characters’ individual struggles and relationships. The few sex scenes included have a big impact. Especially the scene in which HIV-Negative Nathan played by Arnaud Valois and HIV-Positive Sean played by Nahuel Pérez Biscayart have sex for the first time. The characters’ anxieties and fears surrounding sex and safety are clear, educating the viewer, while the scene is still erotic.

Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie’s handheld shots make it seem like a documentary, emphasising how similar the emotions on screen are to what those involved in ACT UP Paris must have experienced at the time. These shots also bring the audience in, as if they were in the group meetings. To no-one’s surprise, a film named after the pulse of the house music has an impressive soundtrack. However, the lack of music in scenes with dialogue is a testament to the cast’s ability to convey emotion.

120 Beats Per MinuteFrom 120 Beats Per Minute. Image courtesy of Playtime

As well as being entertained, younger audiences may learn a lot from the film that they were unaware of before. Throughout, I kept acknowledging how lucky I am as a gay millennial to live in a time where HIV isn’t a death sentence. Where there is more access to drugs such as PrEP and PEP to stay protected from HIV infection and HIV-Positive people can take antiretroviral medication to become undetectable. The film’s emotional portrayal of how the virus effected those diagnosed and their loved ones at the time made me realise that I’ve taken for granted how accessible healthcare is now in comparison.

Campillo has created a beautiful film that isn’t something you’d watch to cheer yourself up, but it tells an important story and discusses HIV/AIDS openly, educating younger viewers who may not be read up on the subject. An instant queer cinema classic.

by Tom Halford

120 Beats Per Minute will be released in UK cinemas and available on demand on April 6.