BPM (Beats Per Minute) takes a brutally frank look at Paris' ACT UP

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      Starring Arnaud Valois. In French, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      An irony of many social movements is how success can often create new challenges. HIV activism is no exception. It’s timely, then, that BPM (Beats Per Minute) arrives with its insider’s warts-and-all view of the Parisian chapter of the American activist group ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in the ’90s. The potency of this brutally frank drama will hopefully reinspire concern or, at least, appreciation for how far things have come with the ongoing epidemic—and where they still have to go.

      Fuelling the film’s narrative fire are the debates that break out at ACT UP’s weekly strategy-planning sessions, as members seek to tackle corporate and political indifference toward their health conditions. It’s here that ideological differences ignite and radiate outward into their campaigns and relationships. Should they be peaceful protesters, fake-blood-splattering extremists, or pom-pom–wielding cheerleaders?

      Amid a solid cast, Argentine actor Nauel Pérez Biscayart steals his scenes as the HIV–positive firecracker Sean, with his dynamic oscillation from motor-mouth rage to naked despondency. It’s often his visceral urgency that fractures the group’s direction.

      The tender relationship that develops between Sean and initially reserved, HIV–negative newcomer Nathan (Arnaud Valois) complicates matters for them, but provides viewers with an important physical and erotic counterpoint to the verbal conflicts and radical activism—not to mention establishing an emotional substratum for what is inevitable. Spontaneous elements add to the film’s liveliness, while writer-director Robin Campillo’s unsentimental approach heightens the overall impact of the high stakes and heartbreaks during a period when silence = mort.