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Cannes' Breakout 120 Beats Per Minute Marries AIDS Activism With the Personal 

Cannes' Breakout 120 Beats Per Minute Marries AIDS Activism With the Personal 

120 Beats Per Minute

The film about ACT Up in France is shortlisted for the Palme d'Or. 

An important film about the HIV/AIDS crisis has taken the Cannes Film Festival by storm. Director Robin Campillo (2013's Eastern Boys) has channeled his experience as an activist with ACT UP in the early '90s into his narrative docudrama 120 Beats Per Minute, which chronicles the life-saving work of ACT UP while also depicting the personal trauma the AIDS epidemic inflicted on individual lives.

In French with subtitles, Vanity Fairdeemed 120 Beats Per Minute "a vital new gay classic," and it's reportedly on the short list to win the festival's prestigious Palme d'Or. The film follows a group of Parisian activists, many of whom are HIV-positive as they plan actions to resist and fight the government and big pharma, but the film also handily covers emotional and physical intimacy at a time rife with fear and passion.

While there are pair of excellent documentaries about AIDS activism including How to Survive a Plague (2012) and We Were Here (2010), 120 Beats Per Minute is one of only a few fictional films that truly marries activism with the personal -- the most famous is, of course, HBO's adaptation of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart.

The film tells the story of activists in France, but its tale of resistance is universal, and there is much to be gleaned from the work of AIDS activists who put their lives on the line to end the devastation that governments worldwide sought to ignore.

Of the films screened at Cannes thus far 120 Beats Per Minute reportedly faces its stiffest competition for the grand prize from Todd Haynes' Julianne Moore starrer Wonderstruck; Swedish director of Force Majeure Ruben Ostlund's The Square; Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless, about a divorcing couple whose child goes missing; and Snowpiercer director Bong Joon Ho's Okja, a Tilda Swinton vehicle that skewers the meat industry with a genetically modified super pig.

Watch the trailer for 120 Beats Per Minute below.

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Tracy E. Gilchrist