“I want you to live!” is one of the cries professed by young AIDS victims in Robin Campillo’s film, BPM (Beats Per Minute).
Acclaimed at Cannes, receiving the prestigious Prix du Jury, Campillo’s film premiered this week at the New York Film Festival.
It is the product of Campillo’s memories of when he was a member, in the early 90’s of the Act Up association in Paris.
Act Up was originally created in New York to defend and promote AIDS awareness when the epidemic was at its height.
This was a time when being zero positive meant certain death in a not so distant future, to which thousands succumbed every year amidst the silence and ignorance of politicians.
In the film, inspired by true events, the Act Up militants in Paris, most of them gay and hémophiles, have multiple aims; the first one is to raise awareness by ongoing actions such as distributing condoms, barging into schools to give talks, sticking up billboards that might rattle a society crippled with sexual taboos. The second one is a fight for their lives mostly against the large pharmaceutical companies in order to accelerate and intensify the research. At night, after having fought for their lives, they live, dance, laugh… they love and make love, always fast, because their time is short.
Robin Campillo’s film is not a film that rests on the laurels of its interesting subject. It is a film with a multiplicity of dimensions. It is a film on dialogue, democracy, debate and action. The most powerful and wonderful scenes take place in the amphitheater where the members of the association come together to decide what actions they will take. They fight, they disagree and stir up questions such as is the gay folklore compatible with the tragedy going on? But, little by little, speeches become acts and acts save lives.
Not all lives of course. For if Campillo’s film is about speech and its power it is also filled with bodies. Bodies making love, bodies dying. His tight camera leaves you no choice but to witness fiercely the decay of bodies that want to suck out every bit of marrow from life before giving up.
The film vibrates to a rhythm that sways the spectator; sometimes fast and rhapsodic sometimes slow and contemplative following the soft swell and fall of a dying man’s breath. That rhythm is of course often worked with a thrilling soundtrack. 120 beats per minute, as the film is titled in France, is the pulse speed of a house music song and the film does very well in reminding us of how the gay community changed the club scene for the better with all the first mythical electronic stars such as Frankie Knuckles and Bronski Beat.
Supported by immense acting that feels so natural and sharp cinematography, this film is a great success. Its form and subject are of the highest dignity and manages to have its audience weep, laugh, and be captivated without ever going into any form of sentimentalism or voyeurism of suffering.
In short, BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a great work of cinema and exceedingly recommendable.