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Daily Helping for February 21st, 2021 – 120 Battements Par Minute – Robin Campillo

A photo still from the film 120 battements par minute. The two main characters are leaning in for a kiss, but one is looking away at another character offscreen.

I will never understand why there are not more stories and works of art about the AIDS crisis. That is not to say that there aren’t any. There have been books, plays, films, and much more, but it is still a period of history that is criminally overlooked, misunderstood, and relatively unknown outside of the communities it impacted the most. Which is ludicrous, considering that to date, approximately 76 million people have been infected with HIV. 40 million people have died. This is a history that needs to be told, and I’m grateful for the artists willing to tell it. Especially those who were there when the epidemic was at its worst. This is the case with Robin Campillo and his film 120 Battements Par Minute.

120 Battements Par Minute tells the story of the activist organization ACT UP Paris in the 1990s, and their struggle to get the government and drug companies to take action in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Writer/Director Robin Campillo has said that he didn’t need to do much research for the film, because he himself was an ACT UP activist during that time. The result is a film that feels both intimate and deeply personal, even if it isn’t necessarily an autobiography.

120 Battements Par Minute touches on a lot of themes and issues, but I particularly loved the scenes that depicted the ACT UP meetings. It was riveting to watch the spirited debates about what was the best course of action for their cause. In theory, everyone was there to achieve the same goal, but they all had wildly different ideas about the best way to go about it. The fact that many of them are sick, and therefore effectively working with a ticking clock, only served to heighten the tension. Emotions often ran high as they all fought to save lives.

This is not an easy film to watch. There are scenes of joy and happiness. There are moments of profound empathy and examples of the power of community. But it is also heartbreaking, because history tells us that an entire generation of young men were condemned to die because of stigma, prejudice, and hate. This film does nothing to sugarcoat this fact. But these stories need to be seen and heard. This history needs to be widely known because it’s not history. It’s estimated that up to 38 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV/AIDS, so this crisis is far from over. Until it is, and for generations after, I hope artists will continue to tell these stories.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!