Tragedies & tri­umphs

National Post (Latest Edition) - - POST MOVIES - Chris Knight

Di­rec­tor and co- writer Robin Campillo was part of the Paris chap­ter of ACT UP, the AIDS Coali­tion to Un­leash Power, in the 1990s, which puts him in a priv­i­leged and at the same time un­for­tu­nate place to tell the story of those for whom ad­vo­cacy was a mat­ter of life and death.

His new­est film, BPM (short for beats per minute), pre­miered at the Cannes Film Fes­ti­val, where it won the Grand Prix, the fes­ti­val’s un­of­fi­cial sec­ond-place prize. It fol­lows the po­lit­i­cal and per­sonal lives (of­ten in­tractably in­ter­twined) of a group of ac­tivists try­ing to spread aware­ness of AIDS and also pres­sure phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies into work­ing harder, faster and more trans­par­ently on a cure. It’s a com­pli­cated is­sue, ev­i­denced by the many scenes set in weekly meet­ings, where the group tries to reach a con­sen­sus on tac­tics, outreach and even slo­gans.

And the com­plex­ity con­tin­ues on the street — when ACT UP mem­bers barge into a high school to dis­trib­ute leaflets and con­doms, one teacher tries to shut them up while an­other steps aside and urges her stu­dents to lis­ten to this im­por­tant if im­promptu an­nounce­ment.

Clearly, any movie about the AIDS epi­demic is go­ing to have its share of tragedies amid the tri­umphs. BPM, fo­cus­ing squarely on a short pe­riod of time, tends to em­pha­size the for­mer; view­ers will have to re­call the gains even­tu­ally made in treat­ment, and re­mem­ber that it re­mains a health con­cern more than 20 years later.

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