120 beats per minute on Arte: a painful dive into the militant past of…

A vibrant tribute to the fight led by the association fighting against AIDS Act Up, “120 beats per minute”, broadcast this evening on Arte, is for its director the opportunity to dive back into his painful militant years within the collective.

“Robin Campillo tells the story of heroes who saved many lives” declared Pedro Almodóvarvoice choking with emotion, about 120 beats per minutewho will leave crowned with the Grand Jury Prize at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival, triumphing a few months later at the Césars with 6 awards, including that of best film.

“You can think that the film is a tribute to the people who died, but it’s also a tribute to those who survived and who still hold on today, and of whom I think a lot this evening, who still have heavy treatments and are in precarious situations because when they were activists, they put their lives on hold” released the filmmaker on the stage of the palace of the Cannes festival, receiving his reward.

A moving account, at least in part autobiographical, of a traumatic period, that of the terrible AIDS years in the early 1990s, the film by Robin Campillo is also an opportunity for the filmmaker to dive back – painfully – into his militant years within the association ActUp. Its broadcast this evening on Arte offers a great opportunity to come back to it.

doubt and uncertainty

In 1984, Robin Campillo returned to IDHEC where he met Laurent Cantetwith whom he has collaborated since the end of the 1990s as editor and screenwriter of The timetable, Between the walls Where Foxfire Girl Gang Confessions. On leaving school, Campillo made his very first (short) film for the Louvre Museum. We are at the beginning of the 1980s, when we are just beginning to speak in France of the disease of AIDS. “In 1983, the word “AIDS” entered France. In 1982, in the articles of Libé, we still speak of a mysterious “gay cancer” told the filmmaker in May 2017 to the newspaper Liberation.

120 beats per minute on arte: a painful dive into the militant past of...

Adèle Haenel, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, director Robin Campillo and Arnaud Valois during a meeting with the film crew “120 beats per minute” at the Unifrance Pavilion during the 70th Cannes International Film Festival on May 23, 2017.

With AIDS, I could no longer imagine myself in the cinema. I have entered a winter period. All the people I adored, and it wasn’t very original, it was the filmmakers of the New Wave or the Straubs, didn’t seem to me at all operational, completely impervious to what was happening.

I didn’t really know what I wanted to do anymore. I no longer placed myself in a genealogy of cinema but rather in this event still difficult to discern, and which produced names and images of a total strangeness, […] the first appearances of patients rendered unrecognizable by the attacks of the disease like Kenny Ramsauer, who we see in a documentary broadcast on the ABC chain in 1983 and whose tragic birthday photos with his friend are included in an issue of Paris Match.

The cinema images are all the same a little swept away by those which will circulate at that time, and which evoke who knows what bad science fiction film about a spectacular disaster” remembers Campillo, in another interview with the newspaper.

Innovative and radical activism

If Robin Campillo plans to join the association for a while Aidsabove all focused on assisting the sick, he was especially struck by this form of guerrilla militancy adopted by ActUp. While working on the editing of subjects for the television news of France 3, he discovered in March 1992 the filmed images where the association attacks, during a Zap (that is to say an interpellation) to Doctor Bahman Habibi, who was then the medical and scientific director of the CNTS (the National Center for Blood Transfusion).

The latter was involved in the tainted blood scandal which hit the headlines. Taken to task by the militants ofActUp to cries “of murderer!”, they threw fake blood in his face and handcuffed him on the stage of the amphitheater of the Salpêtrière hospital, in front of 300 people. Shocking images that mark Campillo, seduced by this activism that is both innovative and radical.

120 beats per minute on arte: a painful dive into the militant past of...
Celine Nieszawer

It was in 1992 that Campillo joined the movement. A membership which allows him, according to his words, “of [se] regain control”whereas it is “crushed by the fear of being sick, completely paralyzed, including aesthetically”. Carrying out these sometimes vigorous actions, the association’s trademark, had an electrifying side for Robin Campillo.

But fear was also standing there at the same time, very close. “We could be a little ashamed depending on the way it happened. But there was a joint production of a striking, striking image, and we appeared like the heroes of soap operas in the manner of Vampires of Louis Feuillade; something that evokes underground groups with a whole subversive mythology”.

Picking (gathering), die-in like the gigantic one that was organized on rue de Rennes in Paris on the occasion of World AIDS Day in 1994… This transgressive, theatrical activism, which is not afraid to shock, is even found on logo symbol ofActUp, the famous pink triangle.

Obvious reference to the symbol worn by inmates designated as homosexual in Nazi concentration camps. Noticeable difference: the pink triangle of the association points upwards, while the “historical” triangle pointed downwards.

“Act Up brought out all the anger accumulated in the crossing of the 80s with the feeling that as gay people we were the victims of an epidemic without precedent, and yet inaudible and invisible as a minority” remembers the filmmaker.

120 beats per minute on arte: a painful dive into the militant past of...
Pierre’s films / France 3 Cinema

“As soon as the epidemic appeared, I said to myself that we had to make a film about it. But what film? It is not a good object of cinema a priori. What are we doing, what are we talking about? The virus ?” asks Robin Campillo. It was only at the age of 42 that the filmmaker signed his first feature, Ghosts. A film with a premonitory title. It will finally take more than twenty years to give birth to this painful, angry and intimate story ofActUp. In short, the project of a lifetime.

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