Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB. France, 2017. Les Films de Pierre, France 3 Cinema, Page 114, Memento Films Production, FD Production, Centre National De La Cinematographie, Region Ile-de-France, Ciclic – Région Centre, Indéfilms 5, Cofinova 13, France Televisions, Canal+, Cine+. Screenplay by Robin Campillo, Philippe Mangeot. Cinematography by Jeanne Lapoirie. Produced by Hugues Charbonneau, Marie-Ange Luciani. Music by Arnaud Rebotini. Production Design by Helene Rey. Costume Design by Isabelle Pannetier. Film Editing by Robin Campillo, Stephanie Leger, Anita Roth. Cannes Film Festival 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
Director Robin Campillo looks back to his own days as a member of the Paris chapter of AIDS activist group Act Up. It’s 1989 and members of the HIV-positive community and their friends are, like the Americans who started the group a few years earlier, out of patience with the government’s delays, the public’s intolerance and the corporate greed that are not permitting the breakthroughs in medical technology that could deal with the crisis. A great deal of the group’s members are themselves ill and don’t have time to play nice with the politicians and pharmaceutical representatives who, they feel, are not doing their best, going after them in headline-grabbing stunts that involve interrupting medical conferences, breaking into office buildings and throwing a lot of balloons full of fake blood. The narrative is rooted in the many scenes of weekly meetings whose impressively natural rhythm of conversing back and forth resembles the best kind of procedural French drama that can be so compelling (Polisse comes to mind, or The Class, which Campillo co-wrote). No matter how much these dedicated and intelligent young people spar with each other, and in some cases reach very unpleasant disagreements with the way they mean to do things, there is a lot of love and affection as well, not to mention the shared pleasures of sex and dancing in night clubs that shows the director expressing great admiration and loving nostalgia for the group’s achievements. The final sequence, which shows unity under the most important experience that any of these members would have to face, is the perfect cap on an enlightening and moving experience. Campillo’s writing and direction are superb, but he also assembles a flawless cast with no weak spots, the best of them Nahuel Pérez Biscayart as the would-be protagonist Sean, whose own personal conflicts are as dramatic as what he faces against the outside world, and Adèle Haenel as one of the most intelligent and articulate of the activists.