Film of my life: Campillo on his lat­est fea­ture

Di­rec­tor shot film in se­quence, giv­ing ac­tors plenty of room to dig deep into roles

Montreal Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - T’CHA DUNLEVY tdun­levy@post­ twit­­levy

“This is the film of my life,” said Robin Campillo with what was left of his voice, mid­way through the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in Septem­ber.

The Moroc­can-French writer, edi­tor and di­rec­tor was talk­ing about his third fea­ture, 120 bat­te­ments par minute, which won the Grand Prix at Cannes, where it pre­mièred in com­pe­ti­tion in May. It has been a smash hit in France since open­ing there in Au­gust and be­ing se­lected as the coun­try’s Os­car sub­mis­sion in the best for­eign lan­guage film cat­e­gory.

Campillo wasn’t re­fer­ring to ac­co­lades or box of­fice, how­ever, but to the sub­ject mat­ter. His riv­et­ing en­sem­ble drama re­vis­its the net­work of young ac­tivists he en­coun­tered as a mem­ber of grass­roots AIDS or­ga­ni­za­tion Act Up Paris in the early ’90s, draw­ing heav­ily on the film­maker’s per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence.

“The two big things in my life have been cin­ema and AIDS,” he said. “This film is in many ways a farewell to my youth.”

Campillo was barely 20 years old when he en­tered L’In­sti­tut des hautes etudes ciné­matographiques, along­side fu­ture col­lab­o­ra­tor Lau­rent Can­tet. He would go on to work ex­ten­sively with Can­tet, cowrit­ing and edit­ing the lat­ter’s 2008 Cannes Palme d’Or-win­ner En­tre les murs.

As a film­maker, Campillo has been less pro­lific, per­haps be­cause from the out­set he had other things on his mind.

“At the be­gin­ning of the AIDS epi­demic, in 1982, I was just en­ter­ing film school,” he re­called. “It was very scary, as a young gay man. I said to my­self, ‘Some­thing ter­ri­ble is go­ing to hap­pen.’ And that fear pre­vented me from think­ing about cin­ema. It was so strong that cin­ema could no longer help me. I didn’t want to make films any­more. It was like win­ter pass­ing through me.”

It took a decade be­fore Campillo got his sec­ond wind. Ar­riv­ing at Act Up Paris, in the early ’90s, he found power in num­bers and in tak­ing ac­tion ver­sus liv­ing in fear.

“It was like a de­liv­er­ance,” he said. “There was a sense of jubilation, even if it was a very hard time. There was a pos­i­tive en­ergy in the group. It was 1992-93, 10 years af­ter the be­gin­ning of the epi­demic. Even then, it took time for me to come back to cin­ema.”

His friend Can­tet hired Campillo as an edi­tor on his 1997 TV movie Les san­guinaires, be­gin­ning a lengthy and fruit­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion that con­tin­ues to this day. But in 1992, Campillo still wasn’t think­ing about cin­ema.

“It was as if through the lens of Act Up, I couldn’t see any­thing else,” he said.

It would be an­other 25 years be­fore he turned his lens on the

time and peo­ple of an era that had marked him pro­foundly.

“It’s like if some­thing is right in front of your eyes, you don’t re­al­ize it’s the sub­ject of the film you want to make,” he said. “This isn’t a film about one sick per­son, it’s the story of a group. It took time to re­al­ize that.”

Campillo went to great lengths to cap­ture that group dy­namic in 120 bat­te­ments par min­utes. (The ti­tle is a ref­er­ence to the tempo of house mu­sic, rep­re­sent­ing the fes­tive side of gay cul­ture.)

Shoot­ing scenes in se­quence — as op­posed to out of or­der, which is the eco­nom­i­cal and prac­ti­cal norm in the film in­dus­try — and us­ing mul­ti­ple cam­eras, he gave his ac­tors plenty of room to dig deep into their roles.

“Since my last film (2013’s East­ern Boys), I shoot each scene as a whole. I don’t do one shot at a time; that’s over for me. I work with Jeanne Lapoirie, my di­rec­tor of pho­tog­ra­phy. We shoot fast, and we start shoot­ing very early in the process. We leave ac­tors a half-hour to pre­pare and we shoot the first take.

“As we keep shoot­ing, the ac­tors for­get the cam­era. They start play­ing off each other and they don’t see us any­more. It cre­ates its own kind of re­al­ity and al­lows them to breathe within the scene.”

For Nahuel Pérez Bis­ca­yart and Ar­naud Valois, who were with Campillo at TIFF, the di­rec­tor’s method­ol­ogy al­lowed them to sub­merge them­selves in the story.

“It was an ad­ven­ture in cin­ema, but also a hu­man ad­ven­ture,” said Valois, who plays Nathan, a wide-eyed new­comer to the group who falls in love with the ex­tro­verted Sean, played by Pérez Bis­ca­yart.

“It made for an in­cred­i­bly in­tense shoot, filled with in­ti­mate mo­ments.”

“It was a beau­ti­ful jour­ney,” Pérez Bis­ca­yart added. “It was very cathar­tic. (Campillo) let us get lost on set by sur­round­ing us with in­spir­ing peo­ple. He cre­ated a con­stel­la­tion of char­ac­ters.”

On the day we spoke, in midSeptem­ber, Campillo was still com­ing to terms with the rap­tur­ous crit­i­cal re­cep­tion and boom­ing box-of­fice re­sults his film had been met with in France.

“The press has been com­pletely deliri­ous,” he said. “And the at­ten­dance — in the first twoand-a-half weeks, 500,000 peo­ple have seen it. It’s beyond any­thing we had hoped for. For me who has al­ways made films in the mar­gins, it’s a lit­tle strange. In one day, this film sold as many tick­ets as my last film in its en­tire run.

“I’m happy for the film; it’s im­por­tant that it has found an au­di­ence. I’m touched be­cause I didn’t hold back or con­strain my­self by try­ing to make a uni­ver­sal film. I didn’t round off the edges, and I feel like peo­ple were touched by that.”


“It was an ad­ven­ture in cin­ema, but also a hu­man ad­ven­ture,” says Ar­naud Valois, cen­tre, who stars in Robin Campillo’s 120 bat­te­ments par min­utes.

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