Review: 120 BPM

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Director: Robin Campillo

Writers: Robin Campillo, Philippe Mangeot

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Starring: Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel

Release Date: 6th April

120 Beats Per Minute is a French film that follows the AIDS activist group ACT UP as they battle to fight against the disease during the height of the AIDS epidemic in France, in the 1990s.

Directed by Robin Campillo, a member of ACT UP, the film depicts a raw portrayal of life with AIDS and the reality for those suffering from the disease. The film won the Grand Prix Award, the second-most prestigious honour at the Cannes film festival.

120 Beats Per Minute’s story is a blend of activist meetings and their political actions. The opening is unique in its story structure and it presents us with a political event that went well for some and poorly for others. These perspectives on the event are shown via various viewpoints and are delivered through flashbacks accompanied by a voice-over.

While not entirely original in its structure, it introduces us to different members and their conflicting opinions. This use of unconventional storytelling strongly serves the story.

The use of narrative in 120 Beats Per Minute is refreshing. There is clearly a three-act story arc, yet it is not the standard three acts. Each act individually could be its own film. The transition from the first act to the second is smooth and almost unnoticeable.

“The strong story telling devices and the unconventional narrative add to the films realism.”

The second transition from act two to three is jarring. It serves a purpose. It is aware of it too. While it is an interesting take on narrative structure, it fails at times and can lose the audience. However, this doesn’t take much away from the film, but a slightly more traditional attempt could have proved more impactful at certain moments.

The strong storytelling devices and the unconventional narrative add to the film’s realism. The film tastes like an activist meeting; with their cigarettes and desperate sweat of passion for change. At times during the film, people with AIDS will just faint and it is often unexpected; the reactions are not dramatic, but they are poignant and human.

The film depicts homophobia in the world as something subtle and is evidently present in some of the characters’ lives. It is not emphasised or stressed upon but it is present. However, while the oppression aspect is not the focus of the story, it does add a real depth of authenticity to the film.

In a Nutshell: An interesting film that realistically tells a part of recent history that many of us will not be aware of.

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