By Evan Lambert
If you’ve ever wanted to simultaneously have a boner and reflect on the importance of queer activism, then Beats Per Minute (BPM) is the movie for you.
The critically-acclaimed French film, which won second place (“Grand Prix” if you’re classy) at the Cannes Film Festival in 2017, recently opened in limited release — and it lives up to the hype. As it follows the members of the Paris chapter of ACT UP in the early ’90s, it intersperses scenes of eroticism with scenes of activism in such a way that the personal becomes political and the political becomes sexy as hell.
As the characters of BPM pressure French Big Pharma to expedite antiretroviral treatments for HIV patients, the movie smartly stages its scenes of activism as if they are ripped from an action movie: loud, chaotic, and frequently shocking. Combined with the movie’s pulsing, throbbing score, these scenes make us feel the urgency of AIDS activists at the height of the crisis. Then, when the movie pulls away to depict scenes of intimacy between the male leads — one of whom is HIV positive, or “poz” — we remember what, exactly, these activists are fighting for. As directed by Robin Campillo, who was himself a member of the Paris ACT UP chapter, BPM never fully loses its human heartbeat.
Set mostly in the headquarters of the Paris chapter of ACT UP, BPM does a fantastic job of nailing the heated, hyperarticulate dialogue of its activists. In a literal fight for their lives, the predominantly HIV-positive members of the chapter learn to make weapons out of words and daggers out of data. Their research, investigations, and rightful anger fuel their urge to learn more and do more, as the reality of AIDS encroaches upon even their most personal interactions. When the two leads — played intensely by Arnaud Valois and Nahuel Perez Biscayart — have sex for the first time, they develop an initial bond by sharing their own personal anecdotes about former poz lovers.
While BPM is occasionally weighed down by its own talkiness, it ultimately morphs into something singularly moving. One recurring visual motif of bright particles hovering in the air seems to reference the molecules at the very heart of the movie. These are the molecules that drive us, and these are the molecules we seek to protect. Thanks to this visual glue — and the movie’s all-around solid acting — the movie’s final minutes pack a visceral punch that stay with you long after the credits roll.
Flagrantly Rated: **** (4 out of 5 Stars)