120 BPM : A Film Review

 

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120 BPM

Director: Robin Campillo, Writers: Robin Campillo, Philippe Mange, Cast principals : Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel.

Cast details : Nahuel Pérez Biscayart – Sean, Arnaud Valois – Nathan, Adèle Haenel – Sophie, Antoine Reinartz – Thibault, Félix Maritaud – Max, Ariel Borenstein – Jérémie, Aloïse Sauvage – Eva – Simon Bourgade – Luc, Médhi Touré – Germain, Simon Guélat – Markus, Coralie Russier – Muriel, Catherine Vinatier – Hélène, Théophile Ray – Marco, Saadia Bentaïeb Mère – Sean, Jean-François Auguste – Fabien.

Production Co: Les Films de Pierre, France 3 Cinéma.

France English Subtitled.  2hr 23mins.  Rated 15.

1979 on dateline

When Aids came crashing in there were few prepared for its deadly tragic consequences. Amongst the alienating devastating effects for individuals a collective panic arose across the Western world. Aids is still around and is epidemic in Africa were trucks pull up to relieve their crosssway paths and prostitution is spreading disease in places were no treatment is readily accessible. If your heart beats let it beat at 120 BPM the Film seems to say. The life is short lived when Aids is encountered and the outside world is a mere external hospital wall away. For the middle classes of France and many European cities and for that matter towns and rural communities the Virus meant their liberté, égalité, fraternité, is truly turned upside down.

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Out in the open

The film begins with the weekly assembly of the Act Up Group after a disastrous protest concerning the lack of government pharmaceutical and health assistance surrounding research and tackling the scourge of sexual intercourse. They interrupt a convention on Medicine, one where the release of drug results is withheld and they confront the speakers and one protester accidentally takes it too far and ballon bombs a spokesperson with fake blood.  Horrific as it may seem that the transmission of Aids is frequently through blood products and contact with infected blood this is quite an outrage.

In a University lecture hall the meeting at length profiles the scale and extent of anxiety with a mainly young male audience.  Women are to the fore also and take part with equal measure of purpose to Act Up.  The fraternity is compulsive and the raucous determination resembles the ‘68 protests also seen on the campuses of Paris. Then the freedoms were fought for without the brinkmanship and set ideals and a framework I would say for the Socialist ‘Reality’ of workers rights we now see exposed in France today with the SNCF (railway) workers seeking protection of their rights.  Like the brilliant film with Marion Coutillard of 2016 Two Days One Night, the solidarity is squeezed to the margins. This film has the quality of discernment and authoritive public action in the form of activism. Political activism has been a staple of France for decades and Macron is as a new broom trying to sweep that under the carpet instead of widening the structures of protection of people’s rights to a life without the perils of exploitation he cosies up to.

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The disaster turns up the flame and it points up the calamitous path that they fear they might tread on.  Victims are everywhere.  Class boundaries are non existent as Aids and being HIV Positive is no respecter of gender or status. Tinder the gay app. is currently in trouble over its data breaches in allowing (allegedly) access to users data thought to be held private exchanged in relation to HIV status.

Aids America

Before this film came Dallas Buyers Club also about the difficulty of obtaining treatment and was it a superb underrated piece which Matthew McConaghy excelled and created a guardian angel role in a motel on the outskirts.

The battlements (battements is Francais for beats) are drawn in this French activist movie though it’s pace is laboured and it is slow to produce a core force of nature in response to nature’s deliverance of a plaque. Initially the piece is off the group responses and tactics and instead of the exploration of positions in depth the focus turns to the plight of an individual.

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I have seen photographs of protests into the eighties in the Netherlands, other places where sit down protests were still needed to highlight the failings of medical interventions. It is still a massive medically under resourced disease world problem. Apart from war the epidemic affects the largest percentage of world population than any other individual disease. See https://www.avert.org/global-hiv-and-aids-statistics

Disease in full spectrum 

For the film the disease is visual and viscerally in the main frame. Attitudes of Doctors and Politicians are scarily – and we recognise the same double speak in the same areas today – platitudinous and patronising.  We are looking back to the gross niavity of those times even though it was a high profile and deeply concerning time for all who engaged in sexual acts.  Deeply felt ‘morality’ judgements came forward out of the decade of the sixties promiscuity yet the sixties were nothing compared to the STD proliferation of Victorian times with Capital Cities awash with prostitution in response to poverty and male power.

This is thrity years ago and to put this on the map is an achievement underestimated in its value and profiling of the ‘problem’ which was widely misunderstood and misrepresented – so as not to cause alarm.  The unknowns caused the inevitable panic and regressive negative steps.

Of significance NOW

Clearly we live in different times but the proliferation of Aids is endemic still.  What the film achieves is the stark reality this is highly contagious while treatments only happen on the basis it’s found, treatments are accessible and the debilitating consequences are shortened and halted in a clean environment.  The film is of enormous educational value.  For children born in that period and unaware of its widespread effects this is a fully dramatic depiction of the times and highlights the constant awareness needed in repaint o sexual intercourse.  At the same time the internet (and Facebook now have 53/54 gender customised fluid sexual identities) has enabled faster discovery of the facts and help lines along with the possible outcomes.  While this is not available in under developed countries and there is enormous ignorance and blatant blocking of the facts in areas where it’s associated with practices not considered active.

Would you believe some reviewers are citing the issues as ‘mostly solved’.  A hideous ignorance of the presence which is while treatable as a disease does not eradicate the disease.  People live daily with it and it consumes them on a daily basis and would see them depart this world were it nor for programmes of measured medical interventions which often go alongside other diseases.  Nothing can stop a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer from acquiring it for instance or an amputee or disabled, sightless, or deaf impaired person from obtaining it.

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The Morocco-born director Robin Campillo,(Palme d’or Winner The Class) and his co-writer Philippe Mange are following the personal tales of lesions and debilitating and the death inducing virus.  This is  not a celebration of the fight being fought but a coruscating immersion in the reality of the disease found in those times.  I found it both a refreshing replaying of hidden detail alongside the harm which never found any particular mainstream avenue of explanation.  No real previous ‘fictional’ dramatisation of events – there have been individual cases and films of Aids sufferers before – has cut into the blood as strongly as this it would seem.  The choice and some reviewers are after an educational discussion on the whys and wherefores of the personalities in the powerful position of drug development, distribution, production, dispensing and complain their knowledge gap is unfilled.  This is a deplorable route to take as the director is reliant on the factual ‘bacterial’ progress forward and back, control of the disease to be catalogued elsewhere.  The progress of the medical breakthroughs, understanding the politics of dissuaded elements are interesting but not the purpose of the film.

Finding out the bleak sorrow and end of life stories is very upsetting in this account. The portrayal by the cast is connective and unbearably shocking at times.  When the scene which stands out for many of the messenger as character is telling their story on the Metro and outside the Metro train there is a beautiful Paris contrasting with the enclosure of the train it is chokingly subversive and involving.  The young entering inevitable death is shocking.

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In the early passages where the group refrain from clapping.  They click fingers instead to denote approval there is a developmental logic entering.  Of difference.  The group leader/organiser Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), is to interpret and direct the flow.   As with civil rights there is a counter productive element who have to be persuaded to be less unproductively militant even violent.  Like Civil Rights and throw French until recent times; the resurgence of the Le Pen monolithic selfish nationalist propensity, there is an element who may destroy the goal and objectives.  Just for example as the IRA and it’s Loyalist counterparts (alliances within Government co-conspirators) brought down decades of death and destruction and and unachieved liberty of peace and rights.  For this line a ‘choice’ of sub-lieutenant is a girl unfittingly.  Sophie (Adèle Haenel), is deployed as anger central.

There is a cause of love centrally in the film.  A Mesut Ozil (Arsenal F.C. & Germany) young lookalike, you might see the resemblance!

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Nahuel Perez Biscayart and Arnaud Valois are Sean and Nathan,

The illusion of a world order is displayed in World Football leagues and with an alleged 1 billion audience for a Man City v Man Utd football game two Saturday’s ago the priorities of this world stilll are extraordinarily maladjusted as is the Arsenal Football team the adore mentioned multi-million earning Germam could testify to.

For the relationship it becomes matured before Seán reaches twenty.  The openness of their relationship becomes immaerial and contrary to the norms found they are pioneers of this short lived freedom which is their adjustment and almost only measurable success.

 

Conclusion ####4

The importance of this film is its multi layered excessive in truth telling and its very significant contribution for the youth of today to the examination of, learning of, that ‘commodified’ element of their lives, the sexualised part and the difficult primary function within their lives which is where the love found came with deadly consequences often. Blue Is the Warmest Colour, in 2013 is another young film of similar intensity.  A French teen (Adèle Exarchopoulos) forms a deep emotional and sexual connection with an older art student (Léa Seydoux) she met in a lesbian bar.
Director: Abdellatif Kechiche

 

There are plenty of curve balls thrown in this one, like the normal day to day jobs or lack of, the rallies converge which is never examined.  The reason being the disease is classless and it is an undercurrent you are supposed to feel.

The biggest curveball of all is how is this not a centralised political and human concern of the highest proportions?  How could it be very productive to take it fully prioritsedand perhaps be a redefining part of our essences in learning the basic human relation to sexual drivers?  Everywhere there is dysfunction and everywhere a basic degradation is visited on the human form including the psyche with the occurrence of diseases only a measure of this dysfunction.

For a heart beating at 120 BPM there is still hope.

 

John Graham

9 April 2018

Belfast

The film is showing 06 April 2018 until 19 April 2018 at QFT Belfast

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The Midwife : A Film Review

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The Midwife

Director. Martin Provost. Screenwriter. Martin Provost. Music. Grégoire Hetzel. Cinematography. Yves Cape. Editor: Albertine Lastera. Cast.  Catherine Frot, Catherine Deneuve, Olivier Gourmet, Quentin Dolmaire, Mylène Demongeot, Pauline Etienne, Audrey Dana, Marie Paquim.  Producer. Curiosa Films / France 3 Cinema / Versus Production.  Camera (color, widescreen): Yves Cape.  Drama. Comedy | Comedy-Drama. France. Duration 1hr 57mns. 2017.  Cert. 12a.

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What’s expected?

A midwife Claire (Catherine Frot) gets an unexpected  call from her father’s old mistress, Béatrice (Catherine Deneuve) and they overcome long held exclusion from each other’s lives to put together a new relationship of friendship. This is the first time these great actresses have worked together.  The film begins with a picture of Claire at work and the medical drama of new born life is as a metaphor for new beginnings.  Martin Provost has some brilliantly composed lines and it is often like a novelist describing the minor detail, painting the larger picture we are eased into.  That bigger picture is the enduring power of connections sharing different memories and moving on to form a new warmer, tender beginning, in the later chapter of their lives.  Claire’s kind hearted strength of having been the midwife and someone who continues to deliver babies,  is faced with career choice with Hospital ‘efficiencies’ causing a sweeping away of the old and this too is another form of metaphor for change in someone’s life.  We assume we have three acts, the junior, the summer then the winters tale.  The unkind conveyor belt mechanised world is not indifferent but is certainly less intrinsically human and money too features across this film as a ‘commodity’ of trade.  The new regime would be in – out, out, which troubles her conscious of what world we need enter at birth.   Béatrice has been the cavalier capricious free spirit which Claire’s father made his mistress, possibly a paid companion, against the backdrop of Claire’s upbringing and own sense of family which was insular and having had mixed messages.  From her fathers philandering and her mothers burden; little is revealed about her, of being never seen to be happy but moderately raging.

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Tale of two Catherine’s

Frot (Marguerite) and Deneuve (3 Hearts) came at this with half of France, the attached to film half, full of anticipation of a Gallic weft of modern love and fidelity covering a period post 1969 and the quiet revolution dealing in the present with past times and establishing new revisions of life.  Claire’s husband was a swimmer of some skill and a successful sportsman.  Think Mark Spitz lookalike, (younger ones use a search engine) virile, moustachioed, swimmers body and he fell off the public world of sport, no longer attaining the adoration, in the void, of his closest, maybe, so his spirit was held together by Béatrice.  Domestic life for Claire, an only child, was fraught and she recalls the part of Béatrice in her childhood course.  Nantes? is where Claire lives and she is content in this town with long attachments.  A beautiful moment – of directorial/screenwriters complicit, comes later at another birth scene.  There are many and quite graphic.  Some involving presumably ‘clinical’ models.  There is also a clear heads up on Béatrice’s condition which is life threatening.  Béatrice’s condition is a fulcrum to the establishment of a new ‘maternal’ relationship and it has a great deal of very thoughtful and deliciously cinematic force in the minuscule which French Cinema teases out for droplets of screen genius.  Cafe scenes are particularly all enveloping.  Firstly they are basically a place for reasonably priced food of quality and habitually patronised – the polar opposite of the ‘nameless/named’ posh restaurants where good food is seen by the practicing chefs as your privilege to consume, these edible artworks.  Splendidly adroit is the detail,

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Martin Provost delivers key speeches on these moments.  Reveals often happen over a dinner plate. Not the minor ‘I am a vegetarian’ ‘I don’t drink, I get too emotional.’   Lines are a soufflé and rise to perfection – without giving too much hubris to what is simply a good meal well taken – as this film provides.  Some lines I forbid myself from passing on but they are a testimony to the heft and construction of the medium of such ‘soft’ cinema.  Martin Provost’s gift of language and his humanity along with the delivery of the well crafted scenes, is a fundamental graceful exploration of our values, conceits, misinterpretations, bad times, good times with readjustment and a sensuous affirmation of life with new beginnings – if delivered by The Midwife.  Some births are difficult (some recent thought is given to it being the origin of violence at the pre-birth and delivery itself portending fate!) and this is a tale of taking life as it happens to exist.

The pleasure Claire receives from being The Midwife, induces a maternal instinct which seems to kick in over other parts of her life.  From the juniors she tutors, to the to-be father intent on seeing and retaining this memory of his child’s birth, she places him in control alongside her.

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Prowess and excellence

Séraphine (2008 seven César Awards)  Violette, are most renowned Martin Provost films, and the previous years (2015) Things To Come, was a deeper themed film, using premier acting talent (Isabelle Huppert a lapsed professor roping a young man) and now The Midwife, is a companion piece of a seemingly slightly lesser mould but it is accurately playful and scopes out a story without having a doctrine or pledge of moral guidance but instead provokes the ‘well what would I have done?’ test of French ingenuity.  With regard to screen presence and performance ever present in some portion in domestic French film, it recalls Bardots sexual presence, though here the view is reflected back.  Denueve as  temptress is easy to imagine and having used her allure with her compelling sexuality striving to reach her inner spiritual self seeking something different than the banal.  Béatrice has even altered her name we learn, implying the child looking out to a more attractive future.  This is a docile view on sexual capture and how Claire’s father was enraptured by Béatrice.  As Julie Newmar said about her onscreen presence with Batman it was about the sexual chemistry and that was a kids comic story, it was a flirtation with life’s expectations.  So is this little composition piece has, with the richest ingénue, Catherine Denuevue alongside the more staid Catherine Frot, has elements of a feminine story – not as ‘frothy’ as Madame Bovary – but which similarly tells of a middle aged woman seeking fulfilment outside her marriage and seeing the existing bourgeois in its attire, disheartening and unchallenging of her inner spirit.

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These actresses, Queen-pins of French Cinema, have a great time knowingly playing with their own perceptions of womanhood.  Catherine (Béatrice) has instinctively from a child perhaps formed two selves.  The outer complaint one and the inner one who questions and this extends outwardly towards her desires.  Her excessively sensuous charm and strikingly attractive appearance is conflicted with her habitual reserve.  The reserve in Catherine (Claire) is meticulously, serene, ordered and her attractiveness is the whole assuredness, with you thinking her devotion to herself as a construct, is material upon some inner spiritual strength, a Mother Superior who isn’t a gad-fly perhaps a product of her childhood and necessity to prove a way forward to bring up children in opposition to her own upbringing.  Marguerite (a Florence Foster Jenkins comic role) won Gaul, Catherine Frot a César Award, makes ten! She shows her comedic and serious sides here with ease. There are startling moments in the candor of touch which have you thinking outside expectations.  Little accident but superbly crafted acting/directing brought together with more depth for you to absorb.

Two looks at loving.

On relationships, Béatrice who latches on a question from Claire, explains her itinerary of lovers and short lived good times – without delving too much into the longer past – and she is quick to see Claire’s approach to men as having little tact or womanly instinct, something Béatrice has in spades.  That is another foible of Béatrice’s – the money thing and taking un-proportioned risk.  Going beyond the no risk and healthier tact of Claire’s, non-smoking, no gambling, no-drinking, no-sex drive, no-exertion – only fresh air at her allotment and delivering in most senses, a sterile unpassionate directed professional direction with her unfolding life.  The comparison the film provides through the story is revealing to Claire herself.  This relationship she takes on, is as an act of courage, suspending the past but learning through the course of things parts of the backstory she had little proper recall of.

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Into the picture come..

There are two other characters I haven’t got round to mentioning who play a large part. Though this is like a two handed piece it would be lost without other ingredients to shift and press out realities. The characters brought, are both on Claire’s side of the relationship.  One is her son Antoine (Quentin Dolmaire) whose comes along with his girlfriend to see his mother. The young couple both study cadavers and ‘life’ at Medical school.  They are quite startled by the emergence of Béatrice and the maternal instincts Claire has brought home again, which have them concerned.

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There is also a new character Claire meets at the allotment and a friendly, unexpected relationship develops there, much to Béatrice’s happy surprise. Mr Paul Baron (I think he actually tries referencing a name change!) played terrifically lightly by Olivier Gourmet, looks after his ailing fathers allotment and he also is away a lot.  The free spirits now surround Claire!  Mr Paul, after a walk up hills, where his breathlessness Martin Provost includes as testimony of their being past his ‘peak’ – no pun intended, Claire is fit from cycling. Here it becomes a place of normality as she surveys the wide horizon from her new viewpoint. All this and no car to search further! This story of late love is itself very touching in a slightly saccharine – not overly – dramatic way which employs some now – things are happening despite everything that preoccupies the time in both Claire’s and Béatrice’s lives which means they have to grapple with an assortment of things as life provides.

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Anyone fancy a bit of trepanning?

Overtly conspicuously Gallic.

Cruelly some have described ‘pleasantries’ as treacly.  Obviously down to the viewers expectations. There is a scene when Claire eventually takes to the wheel of a car which is a comedy overplaying her incapabilities.  It has the added pleasure of taking us on a tour of backstreets of Paris, the posh bits of Place des Invalides? Rue de Grenelle? Rue de Varenne? Embassy nooks, familiar places and a slow journey along the Seine.  There is a lot of travelling and a Road trip thrown in which is fun for all concerned, viewer included. With no compromises necessary, French Cinema has the ability to express, emphasise parts of the story with some brio and it is sometimes told with bold strokes. Of simple notes such as Claire’s private ‘regard’ of her looks coming unexpectedly or the Road trip where bonding camaraderie are forged notes. The musical score too is plaintive and melancholic at times and some special ‘homage’ is paid by Béatrice’s reminiscences with Paul over a glass or two.  They are not with as some critics would have you believe, done with a blacksmiths hammer but with adroit grace and It is especially true with Catherine Denuenve who is gorgeously indiscreet with her character and fends off nonsense while showing a brilliant vunerablity.  There is no acquiescence made on her taking on the role and not delivering a perfected performance down to her tactility with everything she handles. It sits just so as they say.  As it should.

Very little of the narrative is flexing of French emotional angst.  No ‘fracas’ no ‘terrible consequences’ just clothing references from the extremely fashionable, silk bloused incorrigible at times playacting Béatrice whose life is to hang on.  She wears leopard, tiger prints, gold bold jewellery and flirts everywhere with her pursed red rouge lips.  Com si com sa. Just to be ungallic.

Conclusion ####4

This is played by two wise and gifted performers alongside a troupe of splendidly observant actors whose place is of plenty of import as we embrace the new relationship formed by the two principles.  The course ahead is a rocky one and in md-life the past comes home with a vengeance.  For Claire it is a pathway out of her slumber as a single parent and having the difficulty of a making career choice which itself is problematic.  Béatrice is opposite and once wild adventure seeker and has now to face a health problem which will maybe topple her from her lust for life.  Martin Provost is something of a storyteller who makes films. His way with words and crafting a script have novel forms to it.  There are some lines worthy of an August serious novel and in this cinematic form deepen the appeal of watching an ensemble of talents playing out his narrative with wonderful tact and pace.  There are some fairly predictable elements however these are merely to catch the watchful viewer and accord some states of normality in parts that appear convenient story elements.  Mr Paul for instance turning his potatoes on the allotment.  The work situations as they unfold for Claire and her taking a maternal role.  It’s likely these are the items some regard as staid, and crisis what crisis? type retorts.  Very unkind and not appreciative of the glorious way both play their respective woman profiles and placing nuanced knowing wisdom in the fallow ground of simple concept to make fertile ideas about life’s challenges and how the past appropriates our actions.  This is a very entertaining and enveloping watch.  The comedy is raw at times and others subtle and subversive.  It is a remarkable piece of film making which confirms the status of the author as a wise pair of hands and eyes on the spectral wonder that is French cinema. No devices or contrivances needed.  To watch you need go along with the story as a chorus of multiple played notes which you have to take according to your own perceptions.
John Graham

5 July 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 14 July to Wednesday 26 July.  No screening on Sunday 23 July 2017.