BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a captivating film about ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) in Paris in the early 1990s. While people, mostly gay and bisexual men, were at that point on a fast track to death, these activists were understandably fed up with what they perceived as obstruction on the part of pharmaceuticals and the French government under the leadership of Socialist Francois Mitterrand. They wanted a treatment and a cure and they wanted it immediately.
Director Robin Campillo and co-writer Philippe Mangeot draw their understanding from their own actual ACT UP experience to create a vivid sense of the fear that enveloped the gay and bisexual population; what was regarded as bureaucratic sluggishness; and contentiousness among activists themselves and their questionably aggressive tactics. The vandalizing of property and violently hurling fake blood in the faces of assumed enemies make us wonder in retrospect if this was actually a productive choice. We can see how they inspired some of the tactics used at demonstrations over the past year in the US. It also brings to mind the controversial ACT UP 1989 demonstration in New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Pussy Riot’s 2012 protest at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
BPM’s performances have a viscerally unhinged quality that makes for thrilling film viewing. Two terrific performances, Arnaud Valois as HIV negative activist, Nathan, and Nahuel Perez Biscayart as HIV positive Sean, take us on a psychological and political journey that recalls the horror felt about the disease’s deterioration impact on the body, the often self-defeating Us v. Them attitudes, and the unquenchable desire to still have sex even though it could be potentially lethal. BPM seizes the zeitgeist of its time with zest. It won the Grand Prix prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
The Film Society at St. Anthony Main Theatre, 115 Main St., Minneapolis