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120 Beats per Minute

by Werner Borkes in Films & Books , 02 oktober 2017


The movie “120 BPM” tells the touching story of love and friendship in Paris against the backdrop of the fight against AIDS in early 1990s. While AIDS was already making victims for more than ten years, Act Up’s were established in Europe following the example of Act Up New York, in order to enforce education on the subject and medication awareness.

In “120 BPM,” Nathan joins the Act Up activists and meets Sean. As they fall in love, they take action against the social and political indifference when it comes to AIDS.

What do you do when your life is threatened by a mysterious virus that is spreading rapidly throughout your circle of friends? Fight back through confrontational protests devised after dynamic discussions, but also by celebrating and fucking in the same intensity.

The film starts in the midst of the AIDS crisis that plagues France in the 1980s and 1990s, and is narrated from the point of view of the activists of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Medication was being developed, but did not become available quickly enough, causing unnecessary deaths. The militant movement tries to bring the epidemic to the attention of the public as spectacularly as possible in order to enforce better care, and to accelerate more preventative measure and access to HIV medication.

This could be the most energetic movie about sickness ever. As the title suggests, it is a story about hearts that beat to the fullest, whether during a bout of heavy petting or at a bold protest action. 120 beats per minute is also the pace of the house music on which the characters are dancing away their worries in the disco. The dust particles floating over their heads and gradually turning into viruses are a stunning visual find of director Robin Campillo (“Eastern Boys”). It perfectly captures the atmosphere of doom in the movie. As a former active member of Act Up-Paris, he knows how to make the viewer feel the energy of the times and the organization itself as if living it.



The immense vitality and single-mindedness of Act Up is the greatest asset of this movie. This fanaticism and passion is catching, and the chaotic meetings are an inspiring course in “shock marketing.” Act Up not only has a magnetic effect on the viewer, but also on the HIV-negative Nathan, who becomes intrigued by Sean. This flamboyant activist has been ill for a while, which makes their relationship even more intense. As his health deteriorates, Sean’s political struggle becomes a personal life and death battle.
 
Although the movie is set in the 1990s, the subject is still topical, as worldwide, only forty-six percent of all people with HIV receive HIV inhibitors. The pharmaceutical industry keeps prices artificially high, with the result that there is not enough money to treat all people with HIV. Closer to home, the availability of PreP is a controversial issue still.



At the Cannes Film Festival, “120 BPM” was received with a standing ovation and was awarded the Grand Prix, that, on this occasion, was also referred to as the “Palme du Coeur.” The movie also won the Fipresci Prize and the Queer Palm.

120BPM is currently out in cinemas.



 







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In the New Issue of Gay News, 314, October 2017

















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