The important, deeply moving film 120 Beats Per Minute, from director Robin Campillo, about AIDS activism in the ‘90s in France, was awarded the Fipresci award from the International Federation of Film Critics at the Cannes Film Festival this weekend. The narrative docudrama from the director of the acclaimed Eastern Boys chronicles the life-saving work of ACT UP while also depicting the effect of the AIDS epidemic on individual personal lives.
In reviewing the film, Vanity Fair called 120 Beats Per Minute “a vital new gay classic,” while Telegraph UK deemed it, a vitally erotic, moving ode to activism.”
The film follows a group of Parisian AIDS activists, many of whom are positive, as they battle with the government and big pharma, all while navigating their own lives and love under the trauma of what HIV/AIDS wrought upon LGBT people.
There have been the excellent documentaries We Were Here and How To Survive a Plague that captured the fervor of the era and the work of ACT UP and activists who changed the course of the epidemic when governments refused to listen, but there hasn’t been a narrative film about the epidemic — with the exception of HBO’s The Normal Heart— that has garnered as much attention for a time in LGBT history that is quickly being forgotten by those who didn’t live through it.
In French with subtitles, 120 Beats Per Minute stars Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as Sean and Arnaud Valois as the film's central couple. Sean is positive, while Nathan is not. Beyond the activism of the day, they navigate their relationship with refreshing, unabashed sexual intimacy.
“I am immensely touched to receive the Fipresci Prize and above all by the support the international press has given my film, underscoring that however minoritarian the advocacy action may have been, it had a universal dimension,” out director Campillo said upon receiving the award. “Beyond the struggle of ACT UP Paris, ’BPM’ is above all a film I wanted to make where the force of words transforms into pure moments of action, while the body held out.”
The Fipresci Prize for best film in competition is a great honor for this important film, but the prize does not always align with the film the Cannes jury awards the top honor, the Palme d'Or, according to Variety. Still, 120 Beats Per Minute has been a top contender for the Palme since it screened over a week ago. The Palme will be awarded Sunday.
Watch the trailer for 120 Beats Per Minute below.