A nearly 2.5 hours long film in French (subtitled, naturally) with a setting of AIDS activism in the early 1990s, is not likely to be high on many people's choices for relaxing 'entertainment'.
I wish I could say that I enjoyed it as much as a lot of critics did. It won glowing plaudits at Cannes last year, just losing out to 'The Square' for the Palme d'Or. However, to be honest, I did find it a struggle. Being such a weighty subject which is given to polemics, after the first hour I felt myself getting emotionally tired, and after the second I was seriously wilting. Then in the last half hour there are some harrowing minutes as one of the two main characters - almost inevitably for those times - finally succumbs to the disease.
It starts in Paris 1989 when the French version of 'Act-Up' (with membership of both sexes) was founded with a view to emulate that organisation's New York origins in tactics and reputation. Its purpose is to make people aware of the failure of President Mitterand's government to talk openly about the threat of AIDS to particular groups, especially gay men and intravenous drug users, where a silence to openly acknowledge those who were most at risk was seen as near-collusion with the worst aspects of the disease itself. Seen as equally blameworthy is the main research laboratories which is accused of dragging its heels in making known results of tests.
Several street demonstrations are shown, not only marching with banners, but also lying down in the road. However, and most spectacularly, a group of activists enter the premises of 'culpable' organisations, including those research facilities, and throw fake blood all over the place.
Amidst these scenes, some of which are particularly rowdy and argumentative, there is a burgeoning romance between a 28-year old man (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) and another in his 30s (Arnaud Valois), one of whom is already HIV-positive. In the latter part of the film, this character declines in health until the inevitable occurs, an event which comes very close to home for those of us who've experienced this with those who were our close ones. I found this part a difficult watch, but the death itself and its aftermath on screen doesn't last very long. The deceased's ashes are then disposed of in a highly unusual, controversial and conspicuously publicity-attracting way in accordance with his wishes. (Applause, please!)
Moroccan-born director (and writer) Robin Campillo has undoubtedly here created an earnest and brutally honest work. There are, unsurprisingly, virtually no laughs in this long film, the only light and shade being between the militant campaigning and the quiet romance between the two main players. There is at least one sex scene in very subdued light, but nothing to see which would otherwise have raised the level of film certificate.
I'm not sure I'd care to sit through this again. I don't doubt its sincerity for one moment, though if I had to watch it once more I'd much rather see it in two separate episodes. I trust that my near-average rating will not imply that I wish in any way to belittle the gravity of the subject matter, but I really did find it harder going than I might have wished..............5.5.
4 hours ago