120 BPM (Beats Per Minute)
- Katherine McLaughlin
- 6 October 2017
LFF 2017: Parties and protest fuel this exhilarating French drama from Robin Campillo
The first encounter newbie Nathan (Arnaud Valois) has with Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) as part of a protest against a pharmaceutical company is when he attempts to jump into an elevator to join his fellow activists and members of AIDS awareness group Act Up-Paris. Sean jokes, 'Only HIV-positive allowed!' and Nathan steps away to reveal he is one of the few members of the team who is not. Robin Campillo's exhilarating 90s-set drama is an involving and erotically charged discourse that puts sex and politics on the agenda without ever compromising on cinematic flair.
Engaging debate sequences are shaded in with little details thanks to Campillo's personal experience as part of Act Up. He introduces each person as they put forward their point-of-view on the matter of a botched protest involving fake blood bombs, but the film never feels like a mouthpiece. The lively and heated discussions round out each character, while also being informative.
All the characters mature over the course of the film but don't lose their passion for activism. Nathan and Sean embark on a love affair and their first sex scene is intimate, funny and powerful, with the men's physical interactions recalling certain aspects of Steve McQueen's video art. Adèle Haenel is outstanding as the headstrong Sophie, who is so fired up on her quest she may even convince members of the audience to take to the streets.
Campillo and cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie summon up the party atmosphere of a Pride march with scintillating results. The heady pleasures of dancing the night away in a club are complemented by Arnaud Rebotini's pulsing house music score and trippy visuals that resemble cells moving through the air. 120 BPM captures the hunger for change with emotional resonance, in a near-tangible celebration of life and love.
Screening on Sat 7 and Tue 10 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 6 Apr.