KUNM

'BPM,' A Pulse-Quickening, Personalized Drama About Aids Activists

Oct 22, 2017
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LAKSHMI SINGH, HOST:

A community is fighting for its life and the new French movie "BPM," which stands for beats per minute, as in heartbeats. The story of 1990s AIDS activists in Paris, "BPM" won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Critic Bob Mondello says the film is, as the title suggests, pulse-quickening.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, speaking French).

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: The speaker at the conference has just begun when he is, well, upstaged.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

MONDELLO: Activists from ACT UP, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. What they unleash here is fury at the French government. People are dying, they say. The speaker represents the agency dealing with AIDS. He thinks he's their ally. They think he's the problem. The audience thinks this is all theatrics until the speaker is hit with a blood-filled balloon.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

MONDELLO: Fake blood, of course, but it looks real, which makes an impression. ACT UP is all about shocking people into action. And the group is both collectively and individually smart about it. One member, a bright-eyed boyish HIV positive rabble-rouser named Sean devotes his whole life to demonstrations, distributing condoms in high schools, tossing crematory ashes at insurance buffets. When a new boyfriend asks him what he does, he shrugs and says, I'm positive - a statement reflecting both his attitude and his medical condition. It's shocking, actually, when he's more subdued after a few hours in jail talking on the subway to the others about how AIDS changed his life.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

NAHUEL PEREZ BISCAYART: (As Sean Dalmazo, speaking French).

MONDELLO: "It is," he says gravely, "as if I lived things more intensely..."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

BISCAYART: (As Sean Dalmazo, speaking French)

MONDELLO: "...Saw the world differently, as if it suddenly had more color, more life."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

BISCAYART: (As Sean Dalmazo, speaking French)

MONDELLO: The others look incredulous, and he breaks into a grin. He can't keep this up.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "BPM")

BISCAYART: (As Sean Dalmazo, laughing).

MONDELLO: They know that, at best, this little speech is wishful thinking, as does writer-director Robin Campillo, whose films consistently aim to personalize social issues. He's writing from experience as an activist, which lets him fill "BPM" with telling detail - a guy, say, who gets a nosebleed while discussing with a hemophiliac how to make fake blood for those balloons, or the nervousness Sean feels as he lets himself fall for a sexy HIV-negative lover. All of which serves to humanize a pandemic that's often viewed in terms of numbers of antibodies, infections, deaths. Here, as characters hit the streets for demonstrations, hit the discos to relax and hit the skids when they get sick, you're there with them, pulse pounding out more beats per minute than you might have thought possible. I'm Bob Mondello. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.