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French AIDS drama earns best reviews yet at Cannes Film fest

Associated Press logo Associated Press 5/20/2017 By JAKE COYLE, AP Film Writer
Director Robin Campillo poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Director Robin Campillo poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

CANNES, France (AP) — "120 Beats Per Minute," a French AIDS drama with a full heart and a pounding rhythm, debuted at the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday and quickly joined the shortlist of favorites for the festival's coveted Palme d'Or prize.

Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Directed by Robin Campillo, the co-screenwriter of the Palme d'Or-winning film "The Class," the movie centers on the activist group ACT UP in Paris in the 1990s during the AIDS crisis.

Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The film's docu-drama retelling of that painful period, combined with a burgeoning spirit of unity for the gay community, earned it some of the best reviews of the festival thus far. Vanity Fair called the film "a vital new gay classic."

Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Campillo, himself, was an ACT UP militant activist in the '90s and had long wanted to turn his experience — one of both tragedy and inspiration — into a film. He called it a "crucial" time in his life.

Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Actress Adele Haenel poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

"I lived things myself which appear in the film. I actually had to dress a friend of mine who had died," Campillo told reporters. "When you really experience that kind of thing firsthand, you realize these are very simple moments. You don't break down and cry. You have certain forms of self-defense. It would be too easy if you could just cry and feel better."

Director Robin Campillo poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Director Robin Campillo poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

The film, filled with personal traumas and political awakenings, is fictional but is based on real events. It tracks the activists through strategy meetings, protests meant to spur action by the government or drug companies, and their evening reveries on the dance floor.

Director Robin Campillo poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press Director Robin Campillo poses for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

"What I wanted to do was get back to the electricity there was in those days, the energy," said Campillo.

From left, actors Julien Herbin, Coralie Russier, Adele Haenel, Arnaud Valois and director Robin Campillo, pose for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus) © The Associated Press From left, actors Julien Herbin, Coralie Russier, Adele Haenel, Arnaud Valois and director Robin Campillo, pose for photographers during the photo call for the film 120 Battements par Minute, at the 70th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, Saturday, May 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Handicapping Palme d'Or contenders is a notoriously tricky business, since the jury that will decide the award is cloistered in secrecy.

But with about a third of the 19 Palme d'Or contenders having screened by Saturday, "120 Beats Per Minute" was hailed as a definite favorite. One of its stars, Nahuel Perez Biscayart, was also singled out for his moving performance as an HIV-positive young man who is drawn to action.

If "120 Beats Per Minute" were to win the Palme d'Or, it would follow another, quite different gay coming-of-age film: the 2013 lesbian romance "Blue Is the Warmest Color," directed by Abdellatif Kechiche.

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