English Title: BPM (Beats Per Minute)
Original Title: 120 battements par minute
Director: Robin Campillo
Music: Arnaud Rebotini
Cinematography: Jeanne Lapoirie
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart
Drawing on his and his co-writer Philippe Mangeot’s personal experiences, French queer filmmaker Robin Campillo’s third feature BPM (BEATS PER MINUTE) vehemently re-enacts the activism of ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) group’s Paris branch in the early 90s during the hiking AIDS pandemic.
As a César awards’ BEST FILM recipient, BPM emanates immersive intimacy that foremost registers the immediacy of status quo, whether it is their hands-on non-violent protests on various occasions aiming at the government’s inaction and apathy, the pharmaceutical corporate’s sloth and cupidity in the form of immoral hunger marketing, or, predominantly, during their convocations where members contend, dispute and express their ideas and methods in a diplomatic fashion, met with either approving finger-snapping or plain hissing. Campillo’s method is unpretentiously engaging with his fly-on-the-wall lens, allots munificent time to studiously record the sparks-flying meetings and tries to reach as many individual’s voices as possible, even sometimes it feels erring on the side of repetition because their situation is pretty dire while their adversity has no conscience to repent. Moreover, Campillo doesn’t whitewash the internecine ill-will that inherently lives and breathes inside any sort of human congregation, best incarnated by the ambivalent relation between our protagonist Sean (Biscayart) and the group leader Thibault (Reinartz).
That tactile intimacy also flows in the veins of the central romance between Sean and Nathan (Valois), and it is the latter’s novice perspective that serves as the guidance of leading audience into a terra incognita in the first place. Their interaction runs tellingly from full-on sexual congress that defies fear and embraces love, to their tête-à-têtes shedding lights on their respective past, until the later stage when Sean’s vitality begins to be overtaken by the virus, where a sense of tacit understanding holds out during his last days (including one last lurid orgasm on his hospital bed).
The crunch to eventually put Sean out of misery which Nathan executes with superb efficiency on top of smoldered anguish, chimes in brilliantly with Campillo’s clinically perceptive take on the concomitant aftermath of Sean’s demise, repressed grief, wistful relief and an insidious dread that haunts the rest “pozs”, a soul-eating hopelessness becomes a sign of the times for queer community.
On the less graver front, Campillo ascertains that mood is high in daylight Gay Pride marches and vibes are sensuous in fluorescent abandon on the dance floor, striking visual flourishes include a nightspot Tyndall effect being glisteningly transmigrated into a virulent aggression and a blood-soaked Seine imagined by a deteriorating Sean, as his silent last cri de coeur.
Performance-wise, Campillo marshals a cracking, preponderantly youthful cast that exudes passion and spontaneity, besides his usual vim-and-vigor, the Argentina-born Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is tasked with a grueling body-emaciation which he rounds off summa cum laude, a daunting transmogrification futher underlined by the diminished color in his bulging eyes; newcomer Arnaud Valois, counterbalances Biscayart with dignified aplomb and quietening restraint that immediately distinguishes him from rest of the stigmatized activists; both Antoine Reinartz and Adèle Haenel (who plays the avid lesbian activist Sophie), pull their backs into the heady contestation with zest and artistry, plus the former makes a good fist of showing the elusive complexity burdened by a leader figure.
Encompassing and melding the tripartite elements of queerness, politics and mortality, BPM is an intrepid critique that covers warts and all of a pyrrhic fight in its darkest years.