3 Best Movies to Watch by Saadia Bentaïeb

Staff & contributors
Autobiographical in nature, 120 BPM is French screenwriter Robin Campillo's first feature film. It revolves around the Parisian chapter of the AIDS advocacy group ACT UP, which Campillo was a member of in the early 1990s, and the love between Nathan, the group's newest member, who is HIV negative, and Sean, one of its founding and more radical members, who is positive and suffers the consequences of contracting AIDS. Using fake blood and spectacular direct action, ACT UP advocated more and better research of treatment, prevention, and awareness. This was at a time when many, implicitly or explicitly, viewed AIDS as a gay disease, even as a punishment for the gay community's propensity to pleasure and partying. The latter is reflected by the film's title, 120 bpm being the average number of beats per minute of a house track. Arnaud Rebotini's original score echoes the ecstasy-driven house music hedonism of the time with some effective original cuts, albeit with a melancholic streak. Because, for all the love, friendship, and emotion of the ACT UP crew that BPM so passionately portrays, anger and sadness pervade the lives of these young people as the lack of effective treatment threatens to claim the lives of their loved ones.

Genre: Drama

Actor: Adèle Haenel, Aloïse Sauvage, Antoine Reinartz, Arnaud Valois, Caroline Piette, Catherine Vinatier, Coralie Russier, Emmanuel Ménard, Félix Maritaud, François Rabette, Marco Horanieh, Naëlle Dariya, Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Pascal Tantot, Saadia Bentaïeb, Sabrina Aliane, Samuel Churin, Simon Guélat, Théophile Ray, Yves Heck

Director: Robin Campillo

Rating: Not Rated

You would expect a courtroom drama to be built around damning pieces of evidence, passionate speeches, or certain social issues lending weight to the investigation. But what makes Justine Triet's Palme d'Or-winning Anatomy of a Fall so remarkable is how direct it is. Triet doesn't treat this case like a puzzle for the audience to participate in solving; instead she fashions this trial into a portrait of a family being eroded by even just the suggestion of distrust. It ultimately has far less to do with who's responsible for the death of a man, and more to do with the challenge of facing the reality that the people we love are capable of being cruel and callous to others.

Which isn't to say that Anatomy of a Fall doesn't still possess qualities that make it a great courtroom drama—doubt only continues to pile up with every new piece of information that's revealed to the audience, until we begin to interpret characters' expressions and actions in a contradictory ways. But the way Triet executes these reveals is just so skillful, choosing precisely how to let details slip and obscuring everything behind faulty memory, intentional dishonesty, or any other obstacles that usually come up during an investigation.

Genre: Drama, Mystery

Actor: Antoine Reinartz, Arthur Harari, Camille Rutherford, Jehnny Beth, Milo Machado-Graner, Saadia Bentaïeb, Samuel Theis, Sandra Hüller, Swann Arlaud

Director: Justine Triet

Rating: R

During Custody’s opening scene — a judge-mediated custody hearing between ex-spouses Miriam (Léa Drucker) and Antoine (Denis Ménochet) — the latter’s lawyer pleads with the judge to side with her client, arguing that, despite his reported history of violence and the reluctance of the couple’s 11-year-old son to live with him, “Nothing here is black and white.” Custody plays something of a poker face in its first few minutes, leaving us as reliant as the judge is on arguments like these, but outside of the mediation room, the film’s tight 93-minute runtime builds to a finish that will conclusively — and terrifyingly — prove that claim false.

The skill of Custody, however, is in the fact that we don’t need this definitive proof to form our judgment, because we can feel the silent threat of it in every preceding frame. Each of its naturalistic scenes, whether ostensibly quotidian or celebratory, is suffused with simmering dread and ticking tension; even when he’s absent, Antoine looms over the family’s life like a dark cloud. With such restrained mastery over a thriller-like tone, Custody reveals the family’s all-too-common reality as the horror it really is.

Genre: Drama, Thriller

Actor: Alain Alivon, Anne-Gaëlle Jourdain, Coralie Russier, Denis Ménochet, Florence Janas, Jean-Claude Leguay, Jean-Marie Winling, Jenny Bellay, Julien Lucas, Léa Drucker, Martine Schambacher, Martine Vandeville, Mathilde Auneveux, Saadia Bentaïeb, Thomas Gioria

Director: Xavier Legrand