After the Lux Prize ceremony in Strasbourg, Scannain had the opportunity to talk to the representatives of the French finalist, 120 BPM (Beats Per Minute). Besides being nominated for the Lux Prize, 120 BPM received the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and will be France’s candidate for the Best Foreign Language Film at the next Oscars.
120 BPM follows the actions of the AIDS activist group Act Up Paris in the early 1990s, as they fight to get political authorities to improve preventative measures, push for experimental medical treatments to be made available and shake public opinion about this disease that was affecting the marginalised of society – the homosexuals, prisoners, sex workers and drug addicts. Director Robin Campillo has created both a portrait of the group and their actions and an intense and passionate love story between Nathan and Sean, a newcomer and a militant HIV positive member.
Co-screenwriter Philippe Mangeot was president of Act Up for two years, from 1997 to 1999. He had met Robin Campillo during their Act Up years and they previously attempted to write something about AIDS, but it seemed to be a better time over twenty years later.“So when he called me, he said: Look, maybe it’s time. Maybe it’s time to work on our memories, to write about what we did, to write about what we never said.” Together, he and Robin created a script that revolves around two spaces, the public weekly meetings of Act Up and the personal space of the lovers’ bedrooms, and characters that are combinations of different memories and conflicts from the time.
The president in the film, Thibault, is played by Antoine Reinartz, who was attracted to the character the first time he read the script. “I really love the sense of humour, the character of Thibault and the fact that he was really building things, transforming anger into action…When the film came out, it was very surprising. Everyone was telling me that my character was a bit antipathic or not very nice or very ambivalent. But when I read the script, he was the funniest and the most clever.” Philippe laughs and agrees.
The director and writers have said that 120 BPM was made for the young people today, who do not remember the 90s and AIDS crisis. What was the most important thing Philippe Mangeot wanted to show them?“It’s hard to answer because maybe my answer would be different tomorrow. Today, I would say that in France, at the beginning of the 90s, everybody said nothing would happen. And we were dying. And we found, we invented a way of fighting. And I really think that today, so many young people say: we can’t do anything. And I still think that it’s possible to stir up the world, beginning with a very small thing.”
Antoine confesses that he is one of these young people with no direct memories of the AIDS crisis and supports Philippe’s key message of the film. “They did not understand anything about the disease, there was no knowledge. But they managed to do something and I think it’s a very good paradigm for us because we are very sceptical.”
Our final question was to ask Philippe what had changed now, why had they been able to write the film now that they couldn’t write in the 90s. He gave two short answers, that his nephews were now the age he had been when he was involved with Act Up and they knew very little about it. The second reason: “maybe it takes 25 years to let the sorrow and the tears express themselves.”
120 BPM is playing three times part of the IFI’s French Film Festival, including a Q&A with director Robin Campillo following the 7:30 screening on Monday 20th of November. Get your tickets here.