Best known for being Laurent Cantet’s (ENTRE LES MURS, VERS LE SUD) scriptwriter, Robin Campillo is also responsible for EASTERN BOYS, never released in Toronto but clearly the best gay film of 2003, along with STRANGER BY THE LAKE in close second that year. His shooting techniques (example overhead shots of a crowd) of his films are familiar and are put to good use as in his new film.
While EASTERN BOYS dealt with East European call boys invading Paris, BPM covers another controversial if not more non-fiction topic. 120 battements par minute (beats per minute) centres on the French chapter of the protest organization ACT UP, and the dynamics, personal and public, amongst this disparate group of men and women affected by AIDS. The film begins with one of its protests followed by a meeting that analyzes its effectiveness. In it, Campillo introduces his characters, its two leaders before concentrating on HIV positive Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Sean (pronounced ‘shirn’ en Francais) is a charismatic and very oratorical young militant who wades fearlessly into action, bolstered by the courage of his convictions. To make his film more personal as well as effective, Campillo puts faces into the organization of ACT UP. Sean meets (at a rally) Nathan and has sex, beginning a relationship.
The film comes complete with uninhibited sex scenes. The one with Nathan and Sean in bed is extremely erotic with full nudity and celebration of hot bodies. The other one in contrast, in the hospital is extremely grim. Campillo love of contrast, is also observable with one seen in the dark and another immediately following in bright light.
In terms of history and non-fictional events, the film logs the fight of ACT UP against Melton Pharm, the pharmaceutical company that refuses to release their lab results. The film, in its most powerful moments re-enacts the debate between the ACT UP members and the organizers. “I am dying, my count is 87, I cannot wait,” are the desperate words of the protestors.
The film’s best moment is the Thibault’s visitation of dying Sean in the hospital. Thiboult the ACT UP leader is always fighting with Sean, a founding member. They always argue on key points with Sean often embarrassing Thibault in public. “We don’t like each other, but we are friends,” are very meaningful words uttered by Thibault that hit home.
The film also documents different reactions to the ACT UP activities. When they break into a school to pass on information about safe sex, one teacher is angry and adamant while another tells the class to listen to the important information.
BPM, one of the best films of TIFF is definitely also its most powerful one. Those who are HIV positive have the member of ACT UP and other activist groups to thank for the progress made a of today. The film is a tribute to these people.
For a film that deals with the topic of death, BPM is full of life. A film that deserves to be angry for the fact that the privilege of living for many has almost been taken completely away.