BFI Flare 2018: 120 BPM

B F I  F L A R E
L o n d o n  L G B T  F i l m  F e s t i v a l  2 0 1 8

"Drawing on personal experience, Robin Campillo’s extraordinary account of AIDS activist group ACT UP-Paris in the 1990s begins at a group meeting. As members discuss action and strategy, a small gang of fresh recruits, including HIV-negative Nathan, are welcomed into the fold. As Nathan becomes more involved in ACT-UP’s activities – from closed-off gatherings to direct action in medical labs, school playgrounds and political rallies – he embarks on a life-changing romance with outspoken group member Sean."

Back in 2013, two big AIDS movies dominated the (as it was then called) London Lesbian & Gay Film Festival. How To Survive A Plague, and United in Anger: A History of ACT UP. A year later came Test, and The Normal Heart, and in 2016, AIDS comedy Pushing Dead.

All of these films are about the American experience of the AIDS pandemic, and its legacy. That matters, but what about the rest of the world?

Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo (2016) is also (tangentially) about AIDS, reminding us the pandemic didn't just hit the United States. (By the way, I got Théo & Hugo badly wrong when I first reviewed it, and will be revisiting it in my next Flare review). In fact, as we discover in Robin Campillo's (Eastern Boys) breathtaking 120 BPM, France was the European country worst hit by the virus.

120 BPM already has an embarrassment of awards (the Grand Prix and Queer Palm at Cannes, and Best Film at the Cesar Awards, France’s Oscars), and rightfully so.

Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is the standout as Sean, who simmers with rage as his health declines through the movie. His relationship with fellow ACT UP member Nathan (a very handsome Arnaud Valois) is beautifully rendered (and leads to one of the most beautiful - and heartbreaking - sex scenes ever seen in gay cinema). ACT UP meetings are passionate, frustrating, fruitful and fruitless, but always engrossing. Euphoric club scenes mingle with shocking ACT UP protests (how do you make blood? Angelic Marco [Théophile Ray] knows how).

In the midst of death, and fear, and panic, this incredible, urgent film manages to be about life. As Shelley Winters says in The Poseidon Adventure, "life always matters very much, doesn't it?"

Every year, KAOS reports from the annual BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. This year, I'll be reviewing seven films. 

Next time: Postcards From London


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