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  • Writer's pictureBen Turner

120 BPM director Robin Campillo is reliving his childhood


There’s no doubt that Robin Campillo is one of the finest – and most accomplished – LGBT+ directors working today. Having won the Grand Prix at Cannes for his encapsulating AIDS Drama 120 BPM, his debut international release Eastern Boys remains one of the most compelling French thrillers of the 21st Century. His new film, Red Island, is out now in UK cinemas and is an autobiographical coming-of-age drama about his childhood, growing up on a military base in Madagascar. I had the opportunity to speak to Robin about this new movie and his previous films, which The Pink Lens has championed for nearly a decade.


How much of Red Island is drawn directly from your own childhood? Are there some parts that are purely fiction?

All the anecdotes, details and stories are real. There are also some elements that I imagined when I was a child and therefore are not as real as they should be; dreamy things that I had in my mind at the time, so I worked with all of that to manipulate a real fiction. It’s a real fiction made up of real details. But elements that are fiction are the story of the military guy who has a relationship with a Malagasy girl and the revolution at the end. However the latter was based on some speeches that were actually said, so that too is based on elements from real life.

Looking back now, how do you feel about your family’s part in French colonialism?

Colonialism is a system that is based on the ignorance of people who were involved in it. I take the point of view of a child who doesn’t understand what he’s looking at and what he’s listening to. We were all like children on that base, even my father, who had missions to do but never had the big picture of why we were there and what was the French policy in this part of the world. The people on the base were very young – the oldest was about 40 years old – so it’s based on youth and their acceptance not ask questions.


What are the films – and filmmakers – that have influenced you the most?

In France it’s Alain Resnais who has had the most influence in my work. But I must say that Italian cinema had a big influence too, especially with this film, because I think this is a film that is more connected to Fellini’s and Pasolini’s films - films of the 70s – as it’s set in the in that era. It’s really inspired by a way of filming in Italian cinema, especially the colours and the way the actors are overplaying the scenes.

Eastern Boys is a remarkable film (one of my personal favourites). Where did the character of Marek come from?

My husband and I knew someone who had been working in Moscow for many years as a librarian. He invited us to stay and there was a young guy staying in the apartment. We were dining with him and the young guy went out, kissed our friend on the cheek and he then said to us “He’s my son”. My husband was sure that this boy had been his boyfriend a few years before. So I started to imagine if it could have been possible for a man who is 50 years old to have sex with a prostitute and then later on decide to adopt him as if there had been no sex and another kind of love and tenderness had formed. So I thought of that story as a hypothesis that love could change nature.

120 BPM is one of the finest films ever made about the AIDS Crisis. Do you think it has gained even more relevance for audiences now that they have all lived through a global pandemic?

I’m not sure that people have made a comparison between the two epidemics. I think that most people experienced the Covid epidemic through the lockdown and for them, they were more afraid of that than the illness. For me, because of AIDS, I was afraid that the virus was not as gentle as it seemed. But I must admit that I was little bit cross to see that people were refusing to accept that there could have been a vaccine so quickly, because if we could have had a vaccine during the AIDS epidemic we would have been so much more lucky. And even now we don’t have one! We were so lucky to have a vaccine so early in the Covid pandemic, so I was really puzzled when people were defiant about it. I even thought myself that I wanted to have this vaccine so much I was even prepared to be a guinea pig for it.


Having won the Best Film César, what is the accolade that you would now most like to acquire?

The Golden Lion in Venice, because I think it would be so chic to have that! When I was young and I saw the Golden Lion at the beginning of a film I thought it was the classiest thing I thought you could have. I do have the Silver Lion for Eastern Boys, but because I wasn’t in the main competition I didn’t quite touch my dream. But to win that, that would be perfect.   


Red Island is out now in UK cinemas and on VOD, released by Curzon.

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