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120 Beats Per Minute celebrates 1990s’ AIDS Activists

media Robin Campillo's 120 Beats Per Minute Image from 120 Beats Per Minute by Robin Campillo

120 Beats Per Minute is a lively French film in competition about political and public indifference, which tugs at the heart strings. The title refers to the approximate tempo of House Music - popular disco music of the 1990s.The film won the International Film Critics (Fipresci) Award at Cannes.

The protagonists in the film are activists with Act Up France, and nearly all are HIV positive, or already have AIDS.

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is an international direct action advocacy group working to impact the lives of people with AIDS.

The story tells how the NGO fought a three-pronged battle to force politicians and pharmaceutical firms to take a responsible attitude to the epidemic and to raise public awareness about the illness and about protection.

Director Robin Campillo decided to home in on one male homosexual couple to tell the story of love and personal suffering they undergo because of AIDS.

Argentinian Nahuel Perez Biscayart plays feisty and politically committed Sean, a 26 year-old who is HIV positive and getting sicker as time passes.

Campillo's Act Up team represent a broad range of ideas from across French society, from the LGBT community, to blacks of North African origin and hemophiliacs.

The latter group contracted the virus which causes AIDS from transfusions of contaminated blood and sparked the so-called contaminated blood political scandal in the early 1990s in France.

At that time public debate about AIDS and HIV was starting.

“The different groups most at risk from HIV, and those living with or caring for HIV or AIDS sufferers, didn’t really speak to each other before then,” he said, describing the period as simultaneously joyful and tragic.

"That’s why in the film there’s a moment when people let it all out. It was a liberating moment, after ten years of indifference”.

Neatly packaged with chronologically linear repeated scenes, alternating between activist action, love-making, weekly meetings, and two Gay Pride demonstrations, Campillo keeps the audience focused on the subject matter.

The film portrays a part of recent French, and international history that many people are not aware of and is carried along by music like the Bronksi Beat's Run Away,

It’s a reminder that AIDS and HIV hasn't gone away. The number of new HIV cases in France stabilized in 2011 at around six thousand, so much progress has been made in a quarter of a century, politically and clinically.

Nevertheless, Campillo’s film also warns that neither politicians, nor the public should let their guard down.


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