French Oscar Contender Blistering, Magnificent AIDS Drama”BPM” Scorches the Screen @NYFF
The blistering, magnificent “BPM” or Beats Per Minute is like enduring a two and half hour atomic blast. It’s a movie that blew my head off and shook me to my core, and evidently had the same impact at Cannes where it was given the prestigious Grand Prix and was officially named as the French Oscar Entry for Best Foreign Film. An angry, militant look at the early 1990s ACT-UP in France, it was shocking to me on so many levels. That it is almost a documentary, but it’s not. It’s a scripted firebrand of a drama. And it’s almost an exact replica of what we were all going through in the United States. Except for the language, French, its’ the same frightening story.
Of government and corporate indifference to the plight of people who were sick and dying of this disease that nearly wiped out my entire generation of gay men. Almost everyone I knew is gone. I wrote the first full-length play about AIDS in Sept.1984, when people didn’t believe that this sickness even existed. People thought it was some temporary illness that the gays were blowing out of proportion.It was difficult at the time to get actors to play the roles of people with AIDS. It was called “Fever of Unknown Origin” and nobody wanted to hear about it. I was one of the first “Buddies” who were trained to help the sick and dying. The Gay Men’s Health Crisis consisted then of folding chairs in an empty room. My friends were dying all around me, as in a war.
“BPM” brought all the anger and revolutionary fervor back to me with a shock. In 1990s Paris ten years later, when the fiery, superb “BPM” is set, the world knows by then that it was a world wide epidemic, but it was still falling to the militant homosexuals, in this case the members Parisian ACT-UP to keep fighting and picketing and yes, dying, to get the word out, and change things. The indifference of the French drug companies were equivalent to the lack of interest of the Koch administration in NYC. They throw false blood into board rooms and disrupt in any and every way they can. Pamphlets, fog horns, picketing, parading and screaming at the top of the lungs that “Silence=Death.”
In Robin Campillo’s “BPM,” the scene keeps shifting between the turbulent ACT-UP meetings, held in a college class room, and the tender love affair that develops between the angriest little queen you’ve ever seen Argentinean actor Nanuel Perez Biscayart and a newcomer to the movement handsome, studly, sensitive Arnaud Valois. Their relationship is between someone who is dying of AIDS right before our eyes(Biscayart) and a HIV-Negative political innocent Valois, who comes to love and care for the diminutive Biscayart, no matter what stage of the disease is ravaging his tiny body.
There are multiple and plenty of gay sex scenes, even as Biscayart lies dying in the hospital. Valois inserts his hand into his lovers pajama pants and brings him to orgasm in a scene that you’ll never forget.
Campillo shies away from nothing in “BPM.” When Biscayart’s character inevitably passes, he wishes his ashes to be thrown into the faces of the suits of the drug company that has neglected getting him the proper medication. “BPM” is shattering as that is exactly what his angry ACT-UP compatriots do as they disrupt a swanky banquet in the last scene of the movie.
“BPM” reminds us that AIDS is still very much with us. It has not gone away. While there is better medication, there is still no cure. You must see “BPM.” It’s a tribute to those who fought and died and those still fighting.