Tragedies & triumphs
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.