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Moving without resorting to melodrama, BPM offers an engrossing look at a pivotal period in history that lingers long after the closing credits roll.
All Critics (121)
| Top Critics (28)
| Fresh (119)
| Rotten (2)
And yet BPM (meaning beats per minute) is a beautiful film, full of drama and humour, love and politics, argument and action.
"BPM" is an affecting memorial about being alive and being heard - a movie that says the only things that matter in life are love, righteous struggle, and the joy of being with others. It shakes all three until their atoms get up and dance.
[Director] Campillo tries to give both personal and political equal weight (or at least equal screen time), and proves more adept at the latter: never have highly regulated meetings to propose policy and review results been so richly engaging.
[BPM] devotes significant screen time to philosophical debate but also appeals to the senses with graphic sex and a throbbing techno score by Arnaud Rebotini.
"BPM" is often exhilarating and ultimately moving, but it makes few concessions to audiences without a strong preexisting interest in its subject.
A restless, engrossing dramatic portrait of Parisian activists fighting the AIDS pandemic in the early 1990s.
Campillo captures something electrifying about a movement as urgent as this, combining party and protest to offer hope in the darkest of times.
Febrile, powerful and electrifying cinema.
A winner with historical fiction alone, [Campillo] goes further to create [the] nucleus of Nathan and Sean to show the emotional cost removed from politics.
It's far from a heavy handed political lecture; this is a loving, moving masterpiece that manages to be equally intimate and epic- taking a political milestone for the LGBT community and making it personal in a manner that still resonates today.
120 BPM is a very moving experience.
Instead of hiding behind the specter of death, the film becomes a call to arms for resistance and hope, almost organic in its construction.
Much of the movie is focused on the hard work of activism and while that material is certainly interesting its the emotional final act where the human cost of the AIDS epidemic is really felt.
The experience of watching this film can be nearly unbearable, as it not only depicts the strenuous efforts of ACT UP in the '80s but mainly forces us to look and face the horrible consequences of an epidemic that ruined the lives of so many people while those in power refused to see.
PARIS WAS BURNING - My Review of BPM (4 Stars)
For a short time in the early 90s, I was a member of ACT-UP LOS ANGELES, an activist group dead-set intent on civil disobedience and social upheaval in the fight against AIDS. Whether it be staged "die-ins", splattering fake blood on its enemies or challenging the monolithic pharmaceutical companies and the FDA to speed up their drug approval process, their shameless tactics ended up saving a lot of lives, whether you agreed with them or not. We were instructed to shave our heads so that in the event we were arrested, the police would have less to grab onto...an incredible tip, no?
It was a terrifying time. I was attending a memorial service for a friend almost every week. People with HIV couldn't tolerate the limited medications available and the new, reportedly promising ones seemed so far off in the future as people continued to drop like flies. I'll never forget my friend Suzanne standing up in front of the U.S. AIDS Czar and telling her she didn't have another year to live to await for the new protease inhibitors to get approved. She dies months later. When they were finally approved, the death rate declined sharply. All that kicking and screaming and harassing was worth it. We did it because all of the Suzannes of the world no longer could.
Eventually I grew tired of ACT-UP. I always believed in their mission, but the meetings themselves would typically devolve into a flurry of in-fighting. Part of the problem was that they were too democratic. Anyone who attended could vote and there was no real vetting process. I no longer wanted to hear the endless bickering by a new set of strangers every week. I went to work for the the more mainstream AIDS Project Los Angeles instead, but whenever there was a "phone zap" request to flood, say, Senator Jesse Helms' in-box, I was there. Hell, I'm alive today because of the work ACT-UP did.
I say all of this to you as context to how I viewed the remarkable new film, BPM, which won the Grand Prize Jury award at Cannes. Directed by Robin Campillo and co-written by Philippe Mangeot, the tells the story of ACT-UP PARIS in the early 90s as they struggled to get a drug company to release its data on a new protease inhibitor. Can you say "close to home"? At nearly 2 1/2 hours and on a subject that Hollywood has long deemed passé, it's definitely not going to appeal to everyone, but with its rigorously-detailed depiction of a passionate group of people and nearly devoid of the cheap sentimentality that has sunk many "disease of the week" movies, BPM stands out as a beautifully cinematic, involving, and profoundly moving experience. It's direct, clinical, and in-your-face, much like the organization that inspired it.
BPM begins at one of its weekly meetings where we meet our main characters, most of whom show the smarts and drive I witnessed myself. Chief among them are Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a scrappy HIV+ little guy and Nathan (Arnaud Valois) an HIV-negative newbie to the group whose movie star handsomeness works in his favor in helping change hearts and minds at protests.
Their relationship may frame the story, but the terrific ensembles' dedication to the cause is what ignites this film and pulls us through its fiery protests and debates. One of the leaders of the group is Sophie (Adèle Haenel), whose self-possession cuts through the clutter. We don't learn much about her, but her strong intelligence and ability to work a room gets right to the heart of her heroism. It's no coincidence that hers is one of the last faces we see in the film, as she represents everything I love in strong women. Her co-chair is Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), who can go toe-to-toe with any AIDS researcher, and who reminded me of real fighters like Peter Staley and Spencer Cox, activists depicted in the fantastic documentary HOW TO SURVIVE A PLAGUE, a real-life counterpart to BPM.
When our main characters aren't taking on corporations or coming up with clever slogans, they do what any people with a lot of energy would do - dance and fuck. This film shies away from neither, so be aware of aggressive dance moves and bodily fluids. Each chapter begins with a stylized club atmosphere. Cinematographer Jeanne Lapoirie, whose camera work is alive and always searching, picks up every speck of dust in the air, which sometimes morphs into animated depictions of the virus itself. Our cast, it seems to say, courses with all of the elements of the world. We're all made up of dust and will end up that way. We're all susceptible to viruses. We're all vulnerable. It's how we face it that can change the world. ACT-UP chose to face its obstacles with defiance. From beginning to end, BPM never forgets this methodology, resulting in an extremely moving finale filled with tears and an insane stunt worthy of what came before. It's a primal scream mixed with such tenderness, and the cast and crew work perfectly together to achieve this delicate balance.
Yes, the film is a little too long, but it's never boring. The direction is urgent. You can almost feel a ticking clock underneath every shot, knowing that every minute could be the last for its characters. Nobody wants to be forgotten or left behind. No death feels sweet, kind or nostalgic. This is harsh stuff and it means it. There's not a false note to be found, even when things seem mundane.
Let's face it, when ACT-UP wasn't out there demonstrating, they were meticulously planning, making signs and pamphlets, and working hard to publicly embarrass its foes. It's not exactly the stuff of exciting action set pieces, although there are a few really well-staged protests. By the end, however, I appreciated the depiction of the process and the deep wells of passion. I can't help but think how different things would have been had social media been around back then. We can publicly shame someone in a single tweet. Policies have been changed in 140 words or less. It may have sped up the process that much quicker and saved Suzanne and Edward and John and Shane and Howard and Dean and...I think you get the idea. BPM pulses to the beat of those we lost and those who remain to fight for them. It's urgent filmmaking in a time where so much of it is comfort food. Go to feel something and maybe, just maybe, to act on it.
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