BPM (Beats Per Minute) (2017)
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Couple of comments: this is the latest movie of French director Robin Campillo, who previously gave us the excellent "Eastern Boys". Here he goes a very different direction, looking back at the dark days when AIDS was raging and little or certainly not enough was done by the government (with multiple stabs at then-president Mitterand) and the pharmaceutical industry. One of the strengths of the movie is that Campillo on multiple occasions lets the scenes play out without hurrying. There is little or no music to speak off in the movie, and again that only results in the film being ever more impactful (the last 40 min. pack an emotional wallop). Even though the Sean character is central, the movie comes across as an ensemble piece, with lots of stellar performances. Last but certainly not least, when watching this, I couldn't help but think back to that other AIDS movie from 2 decades ago, the Tom Hanks-starring "Philadelphia", in the "Hollywood version" of what AIDS was about. "BPM" easily blows "Philadelphia" out of the water. Bottom line: regardless of how you personally feel about the AIDS epidemic in the early 90s, "BPM" brings a sobering look and is nothing short of a masterful movie.
"BPM" premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where it was met with immediate critical acclaim (winning, among others, the "Grand Prix" award--in essence the silver medal as compared to the "Palm d'Or" gold medal). I happen to catch this movie during a recent family visit in Belgium. The early evening screening where I saw this at in Antwerp, Belgium, was attended very nicely, somewhat to my surprise. I would think this will eventually make it to US theaters, although given the nature of the film, this certainly cannot be taken for granted. If you have a chance to check it out, I'd encourage you to do so.
No matter how compassionately, credibly and intimately it does that, segueing from a film about ideas to one about the individual, contrasting the character's dynamism and beauty with his pain- ravaged impotence, and showing the body – not the city – as the battleground, it's ground we've covered countless times before, and (at the risk of sounding awful) it made the movie increasingly tedious.
At its best, this confrontational, unsentimental but humanistic film has unexpected echoes of Melville's Army in the Shadows, which looked at action, division and necessity within the French Resistance, and I understand why it included so many sequences of illness and sex, but those elements don't seem as interesting as the story it started to tell. When it returns to it in those final moments, loaded with the suffering and sadness of what's gone before, the results are admittedly astounding.
Nahuel Pérez Biscayart is absolutely terrific as Sean, a founding member, Mesut Őzil-alike and all-round complex human being, first introduced to us justifying the fact that he and his mates have handcuffed a government official to a post during his team's PowerPoint presentation.
The two main shortcomings of the film are its earnestness and its length. Even just cutting fifteen minutes from it could have made the film easier to take, and there is probably half an hour that could have gone. In some ways it's stuck trying to tell a Hollywood story at a European pace, and as a consequence it does drag at times.
I was prepared for the earnestness, as I had seen the previews, but there are still a few times when it felt more like instruction than entertainment. However, there are also moments of levity and it's worth giving up an extra half hour of your time to see a film that is as profound, important and relevant as this one.
Much of the movie plays as a fly on the wall look at the issues and conflicts both outside and inside the group and its members. Campillo enlivens some of the dry technical talk with sporadic montage outbursts. But, they aren't just mere scene breaks, but, function as a way of showing these are dynamic three-dimensional people - not just "victims".
About midway, there's a long sex scene that, while intensely intimate, also brilliantly weaves in many of the movie's themes. The scene is between on of ACT UP Paris' co-founders Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) and a newer member Nathan (Arnaud Valois). From that point on the movie shifts from a more general look at the group to focus more on Sean and his declining health. It's a risky structural move, and not one that is entirely successful. While it is no doubt important to personalize the crisis on a personal level, it unbalances the whole a bit. It's also more than a little protracted, and feels rhythmically out of place with the better paced rest of the piece. It does lead to one particularly vivid final act of demonstration among the other members of ACT UP Paris.
BPM is one of the best movies on the AIDS crisis, joining another excellent French film, SAVAGE NIGHTS (1992) on that list. It's difficult, it's sometimes hard to watch, but, it's refreshingly alive unlike all too many films these days.
This film does a great job at showing the activism at its thriving and not so thriving stages and introducing us to the stories of people until, at some point, a romance takes place while movie doesn't loose its quality and starts balancing two narratives.
Great casting, directing, sound choices. I will be happy to see two main actors in many new films waiting to see the light of day. They are proven talented and capable of taking demanding roles like ones showed here.
I noticed some unusual and smart ways of using sex scenes to deepen the background of the story, the story of one, also the one of the many.
Techo music was the music of the epidemic, 120 beats per minute, but at some point, heartbeat dismiss the techno and takes over, while the blood river flows though the city of Paris.
"BPM" lacks a full historical context as to why ACT UP is so angry against the drug companies among other institutions and individuals. While the urgency is understandable for those living with AIDS, there is no perspective given to drug companies on why they and their representatives are so despised. They (of the drug companies) are given too little exposure for the viewer to understand their perspective. Perhaps a scenario of annoying bureaucracy would have been helpful. During that tragic time period, there was a lot of indifference, denial, and prejudice about AIDS. This is not reflected well enough in the film. Instead, the drug company reps look innocent while some of the ACT UP activists come off as violent and harsh. This should not have been the case.
But the movie truly shines in the relationship between Sean and Nathan. Both actors do a great job especially Perez Biscayart who shows a strong range as Sean's physical condition gradually deteriorates. The film also excels in a particularly moving death scene. It is very realistic as those grieving share a collective silence and awkwardness among each other. This scene easily reminds viewers of the various losses in our own pasts.
Despite the film's flaws, its assets make it a touching experience.
But where was this movie 20 years ago when it was really needed? Or even ten years ago? And why is it half an hour longer than it needs to be? Even though the movie is intelligent and the cast is excellent, it really overstays its welcome. In a roundabout way, this is highlighted by the fact that this very talky movie is at its best when there is no dialogue. Images of raves and lights and dust are beautiful and more cinematic than the rest of it all.
120 BPM is an easy movie to recommend for its ideas, but as a piece of cinema, I don't understand its critiqueless reception. This movie about desire (for life, for sex, for justice, for attention) leaves a lot to be desired.
Impressively, the film never really drags despite running for almost 150 minutes, at least not to me. I personally enjoyed the moments involving the group (also the introduction to the group early on during which the camera basically treats us like an actually new member, very well done) more than those focusing on the members' individual lives, like especially the love relationship between the new member and old member, but this also got a lot more interesting the longer it went when things take a turn for the worse sadly. And eventually, there is this coming together between the group element and the individual member element and I quite liked that too. The most powerful moment was probably the graveyard reenactment with the crosses, I'm sure ou know what I mean, that was truly touching. Another thing I liked was that they did not show the group as a mass of everybody thinking the same and agreeing on everything with each other. Discussion and conflict were vital in making the right decisions and moving closer to finding common goals and reaching them. Watching this show will in fact make you want to be a part of this movement and wants you to join the group in one way or the other as they all seemed friends sticking together closely, even if their opinions may differ frequently. As for the very ending, we got the evidence that a life may have been lost, but the movement only gets stronger and everybody sticks even closer together with each other. Plus the way they went from loud to completely silent the moment the credits roll in was a smart decision as the film offers really a lot to think about.
Honestly, I must say I am not too sure if the Oscars will go for this one here due to the subject and running time, but I will cheer for them for sure and would be happy to see them nominated. The win is a long shot though with Sweden perhaps being in the best spot at this point. But at least 120 BPM did not go comnpletely overlooked this season. It is one of the best 10, maybe even 5, films I have seen all year and I highly recommend checking it out. Combining the general movement with individual stories may certainly have been a good decision here and the execution is close to flawless also in terms of the technical production values. These also added to this being an unapologetically bold, radical movie full of energy, full of emotion and full of grief. But most of all full of progress about a group that shaped the way for generations to come. H.I.V. may not be one of the most controversial topics in the western world these days, but we should not take that for granted and thank those who were blazing the trail. So get a good set of subtitles (unless you are fluent in French) and watch this one on the next occasion you get. Highly highly recommended, it's rare to see a touching political movie these days, but this really works so well from start to finish in that department that you really don't want to miss out. No excuses. See it.
It's not like I'm naive enough to believe that everything about the disease and those who suffer from it is hunky dory now. But medical and cultural progress has come a long way since AIDS first emerged on the grim horizon, and this film feels like a public service message released too late to do any good. I would have been satisfied with a film chronicling the early days of the AIDS activist movement, which this movie promises to be in its opening scenes. But what I didn't need was a prolonged film about one young man dying slowly from the disease. Do I need another movie convincing me that AIDS is a horrible thing to die from?
There was a lot of head scratching when the Academy Award nominations for 2017 were announced and "BPM" wasn't on the list for Best Foreign Language Film. That head scratching was what led me to see it. Now that I have, I don't think the Academy made a misstep in overlooking it.
A prejudicial plague scorches France, bringing an already tight-knit community into a blood brotherhood. ACT UP is a guerrilla group full of eventual corpses. The HIV epidemic has threatened their love and survival. Pharmaceutical companies have cubical indifference as antidotes are sluggishly distributed by financial logistics.
As the non-violent vigilantes face just as many internal conflicts as press-generated woes, their operations grow in scale and creativity. Their weekly conferences have an intentional cadence complete with respectful snaps, hisses, and hand signals designed to facilitate the mutual understanding that has gone extinct beyond the university walls.
Sean is one of he founding members, and has some of the worst test results. He is the loudest in any given demonstration, and celebrates harder than all his peers. ACT UP is Sean's final lifeline, and his involvement resounds as a funeral dirge among a thunderous parade.
Campillo has delivered another dialogue driven barrage of human desperation. The sprinkling of establishing shots offer a reprieve from the claustrophobic disputes between the positives and the businessmen impartial to death. An important angle to an understated tragedy that shaped legislation in the most vital ways.
The American film is a clever, well-made and well-written film in which the development of the lead character is central. But the French movie is slow-moving, lacks any suspense and doesn't seem to have any central focal point.
It starts by showing, in excruciating length, the weekly meetings of the Act Up members, who more often than not embark on endless discussions about something as mundane as the slogan for a campaign poster. They also try to disturb official meetings, and invade a pharmaceutical company which refuses to release the test results of a certain kind of drug.
This last story element offers some dramatic possibilities, but the film makers don't elaborate on it. This becomes clear when, in one scene, the managers of the pharmaceutical company are invited to explain their policy to the Act Up members. Instead of showing this exchange of differing opinions, and thus creating some much-needed dramatic development, the story moves away from the pharmaceutical company to the experiences of one individual Act Up member. Suddenly, he becomes the protagonist, and we see him struggling with the disease.
Throughout the whole film, I kept on thinking: what's the point? Where is this story heading? Why is the first half of the film about a group of people fighting for a cause, and the second half about one individual fighting against a disease? The problem is also that the urgency is gone. Most of the things Act Up is angry about, are solved now. Very few people in the western world die of aids anymore, and everyone is aware of what the risk factors are. The makers of 'Dallas Buyers Club' knew this. That film was not so much about aids, it was about how one particular man handled aids. In '120 Battements par minute', the disease is still very much the lead character.
The critic from Le Monde baffling claimed that the film whitewashes sexual minorities; on the contrary, be warned: there is graphic gay sex in the film, which I really could have done without.
With the above synopsis, this sounds right up my street and I so wanted to love this film. But for me it took too long to get going.... It wasn't helped that early in the film much of the (very wordy) dialogue was white subtitles on a clear backdrop, making it very difficult to read (and the French do seem to talk fast)...
An hour in and the film still hadn't grabbed me - despite, not because of, the subject matter. However, as Sean condition worsens and you see the impact on the ones who love him, the film eventually drew me in and I became emotially involved.
I'm pleased I watched it, and I'm glad I'm in the minority as most others seem to have enjoyed the film more than me, but there was something missing for me. All the raw ingredients were right (the acting, the documentary style, the music, the campaign) but the final product was a little tedious at times. 6 out of ten
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 transformed 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.