Review: 120 Beats Per Minute (2017)

An exercise in cinematographical activism.

by Antonio Cabello Ruiz-Barrecos

Review of 120 Beats Per Minute (“120 battements par minute”, 2017), directed by Robin Campillo. France.

With 120 Beats Per Minute, director and co-writer Robin Campillo takes the pulse of an era and a struggle where remaining in silence equaled death: in the early 1990s, a group of young people called ACT UP (short for “AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power”) organized themselves in the streets of Paris in toder to combat the social indifference towards HIV, in order to undo the prejudices against the collective and, above all, make the pharmaceutical companies look for a deft solution.

In order to narrate this historical moment, the writer of Time Out (L’emploi du temp, 2001) and The Class (Entre les murs, 2008) – both directed by Laurent Cantent – chooses a mise-en-scène that gives way to the sobriety of the story, becoming a work of pure activism where the movie takes a “town council” approach which dominates the first hour containing great didactic worth.

In an exercise of sincere, intelligent social cinema, 120 Beats Per Minute foregoes the usual reductive gaze that goes into the matter of AIDS by being transparent and giving voice to its character without any kind of compromise, showing how ACT UP comprised young HIV holders as much as mothers fighting for their children and even friends who just wanted to lend a hand.

Robin Campillo tries to personalize this drama thanks to the relationship of love surged within the bosom of the activist group – actors Nahuel Pérez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois in particular are excellent. In these two 120 Beats Per Minute finds its emotional core as it attempts to transmit the fear these people felt while never forgetting that each second had to be a celebration of existence in itself. However, the movie does only go halfway in its pretensions regarding the second tract of the movie, leaving the audience cold, maybe even indifferent to all the things that it was trying to make them feel.


TonioAntonio Cabello / Writer (Jaén, Spain – 1993) Producer and editor for Fremantlemedia Spain on TV shows, he studied journalism and audiovisual communication at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. He also studied poetry, humanism and film criticism. Six years ago he founded Esencia Cine, for which he has covered the Cannes and San Sebastián film festivals. Life is time.

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