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BPM (Beats Per Minute) (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 15, 2020

BPM (Beats Per Minute)


Starring Nahuel Perez Biscayart, Arnaud Valois, Adele Haenel, Antoine Reinartz, Felix Maritaud, Ariel Borenstein, Aloise Sauvage, Simon Bourgade, Medhi Toure, Simon Guelat, Coralie Russier, Catherine Vinatier, Theophile Ray, Jerome Clement-Wilz, Jean-Francois Auguste and Saadia Bentaieb.

Screenplay by Robin Campillo with the collaboration of Philippe Mangeot.

Directed by Robin Campillo.

Distributed by The Orchard. 144 minutes. Not Rated.

Winner of the Cannes Grand Prix award of the Cannes Film Festival.

I have tears running down my cheeks as the names and faces of dear people that I haven’t thought of for far too long come back to me.

I started working as a nurse in 1996 at Washington Hospital Center in Washington DC – months after the first protease inhibitor medication, Saquinavir, was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. As I watched my young, beautiful, strong, courageous patients lose their battles to AIDS, there was a sense of hope, as trials of these new medicines started to grant improvement to others.

BPM takes place six years earlier, at the start of the 90’s. At the time, the only treatment option out there was AZT. This was a medicine that chained these young people to an alarm clock. They had to get their life-prolonging dose of medicine every four hours around the clock… 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It was a drug that had so many life-hindering side effects that people struggled through, in order to keep living and fighting. Yet, these young people eventually still died, far too soon.

Set in Paris during this tumultuous time, BPM is a historical drama showcasing a group of young AIDS activists working with ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) Paris. This was an off-shoot of ACT UP New York, which started in 1989 to unite people in the fight to end AIDS.

The film opens with the ACT UP Paris Weekly Meeting (WM), an open forum for ideas and debates. Four new members join their ranks. They talk about disease process, their platform for Gay Pride, their next attempt to raise awareness about the reality of living with HIV and dying from AIDS.

This is a meeting of people who are all affected by HIV/AIDS. The meeting does not discriminate between backgrounds: “Whatever your HIV status, you must accept that (as part of the group) you will be viewed by media and the public as HIV+.”

As activists, they are known for lying down during a protest, where they pointedly show non-violence or resistance. Their strength is in their words and numbers. They throw blood-filled balloons causing blood splatters for effect, and at times, they throw the ashes of their deceased members.

They charge into pharmaceutical company offices, government-sponsored public health seminars, even high school classrooms. They pass out condoms and pamphlets with hope that through education and shock value, they can encourage and reinforce safe practices. It is their focus because it is one of the few things they can control.

At the heart of BPM, there is an intimate, passionate, raw and heartbreaking love story between new ACT UP member, Nathan (played by Arnaud Valois) and one of its founding members, Sean (played by Nahuel Perez Biscayart).

As the timeline passes through ACT UP weekly meetings and actions, we watch Nathan and Sean as they meet, share a rebellious kiss, and fall in love, with an urgency and passion known to those who know that their time together is finite. While Nathan has remained HIV negative, Sean is progressing towards the more advanced stages of AIDS. They fall in love and move in together so that Nathan can better support and “take care” of a reluctantly ailing Sean.

BPM is a movie filled with passion and need, of anger and hope. It drives home the need to put a human face to the horror, in order to help educate and communicate with people who feel detached from the situation – that it doesn’t have relevance to them.

The fight continues today for 36.7 million people living with HIV around the world in 2016. Of these, only about half are receiving antiretroviral therapy. An estimated 1 million people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2016. The fight continues.

Bonnie Paul

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: November 3, 2017.

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