Deeply mov­ing AIDS tale main­tains a quick and steady heart­beat

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - INSIDER -

THERE’S barely an ounce of flab on this mus­cu­lar tale of sex, (an­tiretro­vi­ral) drugs and ac­tivism.

As its ti­tle sug­gests, BPM, aka 120 BPM (the ba­sic disco tempo is ap­prox­i­mately 120 beats per minute), main­tains a quick and steady pulse.

Set in the early 1990s, it fol­lows the story of a dozen or so core mem­bers of Act Up Paris as they plan and ex­e­cute a number of ac­tions, rang­ing from leaflet bomb­ing high school stu­dents with safe sex in­for­ma­tion to turn­ing the Seine blood red (sadly, this last one is a film­mak­ers’ fan­tasy).

Some of the group’s po­lit­i­cal in­ter­ven­tions mis­fire ab­surdly. Oth­ers — the ash- scat­ter­ing fi­nale, for ex­am­ple — prove ex­tremely po­tent.

Re­gard­less, there’s some­thing very vi­tal and life af­firm­ing about the char­ac­ters’ well-or­gan­ised protest — di­rec­tor Robin Campillo has some­how chan­nelled the crys­talline fo­cus that of­ten comes to a per­son when they know their time is fi­nite (in the era in which these events oc­cur, an HIV di­ag­no­sis was pretty much a death sen­tence.)

The ten­sion in the story comes not from Act Up’s en­coun­ters with the au­thor­i­ties or po­lice, but in the ide­o­log­i­cal bat­tles that play out be­tween the char­ac­ters dur­ing the group’s weekly meet­ings, where de­bate is lively, of­ten fierce.

Al­though BPM is set in a very par­tic­u­lar time and place, the story feels sur­pris­ingly con­tem­po­rary.

Per­haps that’s be­cause there isn’t a whisper of sen­ti­men­tal­ity or nostal­gia in Campillo’s clear-eyed view of the game-chang­ing mo­ment in his­tory of which he was a part. The di­rec­tor has fic­tion­alised his own ex­pe­ri­ences for the film.

BPM feels very much like an in­sider’s ac­count, but one that has been dis­tilled and clar­i­fied by dis­tance. The emo­tions, while raw, are pow­er­fully re­strained.

BPM is not sim­ply a love story — though an af­fect­ing ro­mance lies at its heart.

Nor is it merely a pro­ce­dural ac­count of grass­roots ac­tivism — even though the char­ac­ters’ en­ergy, dis­ci­pline and or­gan­i­sa­tion is truly in­spir­ing.

Campillo weaves both these ele­ments into a larger, more com­plex nar­ra­tive that gives just as much weight to the glo­ri­ous scrap­pi­ness of life as it does to the in­evitable tragedy of death.

Deeply mov­ing.


French ac­tor Ar­naud Valois in a scene from BPM.

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