Loud and proud, this devastating French drama will have you signing up for your local chapter of ACT UP.
Quietly epic and sad but never sentimental—it’s blissfully at ease with sex as life, not death—BPM (Beats Per Minute) throws us into the dramatized debates and protests of ACT UP Paris, the AIDS awareness group that went radical in early 1990s France. We follow its weekly meetings and join its members, thrillingly, on direct actions: at the offices of a medical research company, in a high school playground and during a politician’s speech. Alongside its deft portrayal of group solidarity, the film focuses on one campaigner in particular, Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), as he falls in love with fellow activist Nathan (Arnaud Valois) and reckons with his own diagnosis.
BPM is an ensemble piece that honors a milestone of social activism. If that sounds dull, know that it isn’t: This is a colorful, funny and engaged bunch of people, and their humor lightens the film’s inevitable march toward death. Robin Campillo’s movie has a forward momentum inspired by the determination of its characters and bolstered by Arnaud Rebotini’s house-music score.
But that same forward movement is occasionally shackled by the weight of mourning and loss. This sagging of the shoulders—lows after highs—is appropriate to the story, but it means the film sometimes lags and stalls. In its more private moments, however, BPM excels. Sex scenes between Sean and Nathan are beautifully handled, and the film’s final chapter is a sensitive reminder of what the political fighting is all about: living your own way.
Cast and crew
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart