Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Archive for January 5th, 2018

120 Battements Par Minute *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 5th January, 2018

A9BAF350-A708-41A5-98C6-EE75ACE2BC48The 1990s were a terrifying time to have AIDS, when no medication had yet been invented to hold the HIV virus in check. One watched dear, young friends slowly die, often reduced to a skeleton, pockmarked with Kaposi’s Sarcoma and in great pain. Some accepted their fate with resignation, while others organised and campaigned, demanding  governments and health authorities do more to publicise the risks of unsafe sex and the life-saving potential of condoms, and lobbying pharmaceutical companies to speed up the release results of their drug trials. That is the context of Robin Campillo’s remarkable film 120 Battements par Minute, which starts in documentary style filming imagined group meetings of Act Up Paris in a college lecture theatre, discussing tactics such as public die-ins, the invasion of medical seminars using fake blood bombs and participation in Gay Pride. Gradually the different characters involved emerge as individual personalities, from nervous new members with the virus to the mother of a 16-year-old infected through contaminated blood, before homing in on two young men who form a relationship: handsome Nathan (Artaud Valois), who has managed to stay HIV-negative despite sexual contact with at least one infected partner, and the boyish Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart), who probably contracted the virus when he was seduced at school by a married teacher. Nathan stands by Sean as the latter’s condition worsens; Campillo’s sensitive handling of the intimacy between them as death approaches is heart-wrenching. Perez Biscayart’s performance is nuanced and powerful, as he changes from being a sometimes angry young man into an increasingly helpless physical being. The film brilliantly conveys the solidarity between the protagonists as well as the atmosphere of the age. Long sections are without dialogue, as we watch them enjoying a disco or going to the beach, and there are numerous pertinent small details, like the alarm clock that goes off at 2am, to prompt Sean to take his pills (which in the early days of only palliative treatment had to be taken every few hours, exactly on time, to have any effect). Though well over two hours long, the film keeps one engrossed and well deserved the Grand Prix that it was awarded at Cannes.

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