BPM (Beats Per Minute), 2017.
Directed by Robin Campillo.
Starring Nahuel Pérez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adèle Haenel, Antoine Reinartz, Félix Maritaud, Aloise Sauvage, Catherine Vinatier, Saadia Bentaieb, and Coralie Russier.
120 BPM. The average heart rate. The protagonists of 120 battements par minute are passionate about fighting the indifference that exists towards AIDS.
There is a scene during the middle of BPM (Beats Per Minute) where the French activist group for AIDS invades a public high school to warn the teenagers about the possibility of contracting the deadly disease while promoting the use of condoms and safe sexual intercourse. The members also go on to mention that a person does not have to be a homosexual to get AIDS; it can come from unclean syringes whether it be from hospitals or injecting drugs. Not so surprisingly for the 1990s, the rebels with a cause are met with disdain and not taken seriously, as one student professes that because she is not a “fag” she is safe. Sadly, some of that mindset still exists today, which gives writer and director Robin Campillo’s film (which was also co-written with a real-life member of ACT Up-Paris, Philippe Mangeot) educational value alongside its sense of urgency and emotional core.
The ACT Up-Paris kinship is responsible for sequences of activism (often punctuated by slathering locations in fake blood as a symbolic action for their pain and penchant for being overlooked by scientific researchers and the government at large) where the brotherhood comes across as heroic. They are taking stands against a serious political injustice, never once coming across as annoying and disruptive. This is mostly due to the script and direction that gift much time to elongated scenes where each and every voice of ACT Up-Paris is allowed to speak their minds on such matters, occasionally disagreeing with one another. The moments breathe, sometimes lasting up to 20 minutes, and it’s that particular reason that it’s easy to invest in their plight for better answers to the AIDS epidemic spiraling out of control in France.
Caught up in the mix of this is a blossoming romance between longtime activist Sean and a new recruit named Nathan, a creative decision that comes with a variety of pros and cons. On one hand, it adds a personal layer to the overall narrative compensating for the fact that many of the characters are just a bunch of talking faces all united by the same purpose. A film solely centered on the ins and outs of activism (both the build-up to certain stunts and actually carrying them out) will always be in the dangerous territory of entering a repetitive zone. However, with BPM (Beats Per Minute) it is actually the opposite, as the film tends to focus on the group getting answers regarding unnecessary confidential scientific data, never delving into superfluous elements of discussion.
What this means is that for as well executed as the love story is, it’s also a bit disappointing that BPM (Beats Per Minute) feels the need to go down that route at all. Furthermore, the longer the film goes on the more time is dedicated to this aspect, until it has swallowed the experience whole. Instead of hearing a large group of activists debate the best way to further proceed with their mission, it switches to softly intimate discussions between Sean and Nathan inside the same room while others debate. It’s unfortunate, as the film was actually pulling off the daunting task of telling an engaging story solely utilizing underdeveloped characters.
Plot rifts aside, BPM (Beats Per Minute) also boasts some hypnotic, potentially seizure-inducing visuals as the members of ACT Up-Paris take to nighttime raves with their sick dance moves additionally affecting our heart rate as well as theirs. Also, and this should go without saying, the film contains some physical expressions of love that are lengthy and graphic, but also tasteful. There is a heated passion to the tender lovemaking between Sean and Nathan that captivates during the whirlwind of emotions the final act has in store (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart sells all the agony of worsening sickliness exceptionally and deserves to be singled out as terrific.
Whether audiences are drawn more to the one-on-one homosexual romance or the larger scale story of activism at large, what cannot be denied is that BPM (Beats Per Minute) has authenticity and sincerely going for it. This is a film by people passionate regarding the subject of AIDS and some that have lived the movement. In a way, it’s two movies smashed together, but the message of the film is never lost and still rings true even in today’s societal and political climate. For those unaware, it is also France’s submission for the Best Foreign Film category at the upcoming annual Academy Awards, and certainly a worthy selection.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com