“Beats Per Minute” is defined as the measurement of tempo within a musical composition. It doesn’t take long to measure the tempo of Robin Campillo’s Cannes Jury Prize-winning drama of the same name about the AIDS epidemic in Paris during the early 90’s.
It’s alternatively cool-headed and then passionately fiery about its subject. It’s macroscopic about the group’s purpose, then microscopic about the relationships that develop within the group. And it’s didactic one minute then intimately sad the next. BPM (Beats Per Minute) expands and contracts with the precision of a conductor slaying each beat forcefully, earning its allegorical title.
Drawn from the real life experiences of filmmaker Campillo, who played a role in the group’s activism during its formation, the film opens with the group’s weekly meeting. It’s a setting that will be revisited over and over again, giving us insight into the rhetoric of the group’s varied ideas and methods over things as large-scale as their next protest event or simply the drawing up of catchy sign slogans.
Within this group, the film focuses on a handful of its members. Chairperson Thibault (Antoine Reinartz) has the specific problem of keeping the group dialed into their mission statement, even as each person seems to have his or her own agenda. Another founding member, Sean (Nahuel Biscayart), is the loaded weapon of Act Up. Diminutive and wiry in frame, he often bursts into passionate decrees, perhaps because he understands his HIV-positive status is rapidly deteriorating his health. He’s running out of time while bureaucratic jargon is silencing his potential recovery.
Newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois) quickly insinuates himself within the group’s leadership through his intelligence and ability to rationalize the group’s actions more succinctly than anyone else. As he becomes more involved with the group, he and Sean develop a relationship, which ultimately becomes the backbone of the film and the creation of its most heartbreaking partnership.
By following both tangents of the larger group (such as its attacks on a major pharmaceutical corporation) and stealing poignant moments between some of its members, BPM (Beats Per Minute) compassionately encompasses both the diagnostic of a movement as well as the beating hearts of those involved. And it’s the beating hearts that stay with one longer.
Sneaking away to live their lives in between their rampant acts of protest, Campillo repeats a particular shot of the members dancing and making out in strobe-light close up. Every now and then, the camera will glide away from their momentarily joyful oblivion and focus on particles of dust floating in the air.
The meaning of this is obscured until the finale, when one of the group’s protest involves something intensely corporeal to each of them. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. In keeping with its alternating nature throughout, BPM (Beats Per Minute) effectively reveals that the softest actions sometimes gain the most powerful results.
(BPM) Beats Per Minute opens in the Dallas/Fort Worth area on Friday, November 10 at the Angelika Film Center in Dallas.