120 BPM (Beats Per Minute): Film Review

There have been a few films about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 80s/90s, with examples springing to mind like Philadelphia and The Normal Heart, but 120 BPM feels completely fresh, perhaps because it is French, the actors feel like real people, like it could be a documentary, and because it focuses on members of an activist group.

We follow members of the group ACT UP Paris who stage protests and shocking demonstrations to pressure the government into doing something to help those with AIDS. They believe authorities are forgetting about them and are being slow about bringing in effective drugs so they make sure they offer brutal reminders that people are dying often. It focuses most on gay couple Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and Nathan (Arnaud Valois). Sean has had the virus for around ten years and he is becoming very sick, and even though their relationship is new, Nathan wants to take care of him.

French films are generally very gritty, realistic and unflinching and this is true with 120BPM. There is some full-on gay sex and honest shots showing what HIV/AIDS can do to the body, which might make viewers uncomfortable. It is not depressing and serious all the time though as it can be quite funny at times, especially in their weekly meetings, their demonstrations and their Gay Pride outings.

The actors are all incredible, in particular Sean, who undergoes an impressive physical transformation and begins as this camp cheerleading type before succumbing to his sickness.

The film is a tad on the long side and I was ready for it to end about 20 minutes before it did. Other than that, it is a poignant film and it’s no surprise it won the Grand Prix at Cannes Film Festival.

Originally seen as part of the 61st London Film Festival. In cinemas now 

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