One thing you can say about the French, they know how to make a movie about AIDS. Whereas Olivier Ducastel and Jacques Martineau’s 2016 film “Paris 05:59: Théo & Hugo”presented a current look at French gay men dealing with the AIDS epidemic, the informative and devastating “BPM (Beats Per Minute)” (The Orchard), directed and co-written by Robin Campillo (Eastern Boys), takes us back to the early 1990s, and the rise of AIDS activism in Paris.
At a weekly meeting of ACT UP Paris, four new activists, including Nathan (Arnaud Valois) and Jérémie (Ariel Borenstein) are given the rundown on how things work. In addition to the rules, including the way finger snaps are used over applause to show approval, the new members are told that joining ACT UP means that, regardless of your HIV status, you agree to be seen by the media and the public as HIV+.
What follows is a dramatization of the various actions, agreements, disagreements, arrests and protests in which the (mostly) young activists become involved. Emotions run high and there is a definite sense of the time limitations many in the room have before them. The depiction of an action at a large pharmaceutical company, for instance, is thrilling and terrifying.
At the heart of “BPM” is the love story that blossoms between positive Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), a founding member of ACT UP Paris, and negative newcomer Nathan. Sean, who knows when (at 16) and by whom (a teacher) he was infected, is one of the most vocal and visual members of the group. He’s known for going head to head with Thibault (Antoine Reinartz), the man who runs the ACT UP Paris chapter, on a regular basis, rarely backing down.
The combination of the historical aspect of the film crossed with the beautifully realized characters makes for a potent cocktail. It would be a good bet to remember “BPM” around Oscar time as it deserves to be considered for the Best Foreign Film category. Rating: A