The first sound in ‘120 Beats Per Minute‘ is speech, it is muffled background speech that is not subtitled nor fully audible. We cannot see much, the camera is positioned with the ACT UP Paris activists curtain-side at a government conference. One of the young activists then breaks the hushed tones, exclaiming “lets go!” The film then continues with the same sense of urgency, the same drive that the characters have in their lives, which they enact in one way or another.
The drama unfolds through a series of scenes showing the weekly meetings, where the dialogue is fast and the political ideas are passionate. Via a number of different non-violent protests ACT UP demand action on medical progress, government attention, and an end to stigma towards those that are HIV positive. They are eager to inspire and win over support both within the queer community and in wider society.
The performances are involved and have an authenticity, which is so important in a film that deals in such in-depth socio-political history. New member of the group Nathan (Arnaud Valois) falls for Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) one of the founding members, who in the process of the film displays a fight for his own political ideas within the group. This is a common theme, keeping a certain degree of objectivity are Sophie (Adele Haenel) and Thibault (Antoine Reinartz). Their performances are dynamic within a script that has a lot of dialogue covering intersectionality where politics is about both the personal and the larger social structures.
The film shows all aspects of gay life. It is open in its depiction of sex and frank discussions of sex. Even in modern society, sex is somewhat a taboo. So it is very important that ‘120 BPM‘ is unapologetic in approach to the dialogue surrounding it. When sex is shown the duration of the scene breaks convention. There are too many films where this situation arises with two people about to begin a sexual act, then the next morning would be shown with a cut relatively soon. Here, this isn’t the case. It is an important part of the relationship between Nathan and Sean and is explored for longer on screen.
The editing takes on an interesting and unique role. We often see parallel editing, and not just in a generic flashback. The scenes will often overlap meeting dialogue with visuals of previous events in the narrative or flash-forward footage – cutting between the meeting and the event (the personal, the social, the political) with fast-paced cuts.
The cinematography shows us the close-ups of the people speaking for the duration of their speech. Especially in the scenes with the meetings and the political actions, we as the audience are made to feel as if we are stood in the room and therefore implicated in the situations as they continue. There is a distinction made between light and dark, the colours in the frame often reflect the mood of the scene and the weight of what is being discussed.
The technical imagination in the filmmaking here is easy to recognise. It is brought to screen with the assistance of a fantastic ensemble cast. Add in a song by Bronski Beat and you have yourself a powerful film. It is heart-breaking, yet crucial.
Zach Roddis |
Drama | France, 2017 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | 6th April 2018 (UK)|Curzon Artificial Eye |Dir.Robin Campillo | Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel