“BPM” – A Vital Film About Love, Death and Political Action

By Josiah Wampfler

“[I]t is IMPORTANT AS HELL, especially right now, to see a film based on factual events featuring YOUNG PEOPLE literally fighting for their lives, fighting for all our lives honestly, against bigotry and bigoted bureaucratic policy (not to mention corporate greed).”

– Barry Jenkins, director of Moonlight.

I decided to see the French film BPM off of this recommendation and, much like Jenkins, the film utterly destroyed me. The realistic ways it dealt with death, love and political action completely floored me. It is something I have really never seen before. Strangely enough, the best review quote that summed up many of my thoughts on the film was found in a mixed review from critic John Bleasdale. He writes, “[Director Robin] Campillo doesn’t edit for our comfort and we feel both the tragedy and the boredom of death.” And this is exactly what makes BPM so profound.

BPM is set in 1980s Paris during the height of the AIDS epidemic. The film revolves around an AIDS political action group called ACT UP PARIS who are fed up with how the government and pharmaceutical companies are ignoring marginalized people affected by the disease like drug users and the LGBTQ community. More specifically though, BPM is about two men (one who has AIDS and the other who doesn’t) who fall in love amidst this group.

This relationship is the driving force behind the film. Sean (Nahuel Perez Biscayart) contracted the disease when he was in his teens from a school teacher he had a relationship with. Nathan (Arnaud Valois) has had lovers he found out later were diagnosed, but he has been fortunate enough to remain negative. Sean has been intimately involved in the group for awhile when Nathan shows up and they hit it off almost immediately.

What makes BPM so wonderful and unique is how this relationship plays out. Sean and Nathan, despite having different statuses enjoy a loving relationship filled with safe sex. And despite the dark turn that inevitably comes for the two of them, BPM does not shy away from showing the utter joy they experience together, and that includes some explicit sex scenes that are tender but also as sexy as heterosexual sex scenes we’ve seen in film. The joy that is shown throughout the film gives these men their full humanity, refusing to reduce their stories to merely tragedy, but it also makes the pain that comes that much more devastating

Though the film is set in the 1980s, it could not be more relevant or vital for today. BPM painstakingly shows the hard work that political action requires. Much of the film takes place in a classroom where ACT UP PARIS meets, showing the members vigorously debating what actions to take. Most importantly, the film shows us both the value and difficulty of compromise. As Jenkins’ quote at the top of the page says, it is incredibly important for people right now to see the work that is required for political change. To see that work being done by queer folks is even better.

Bringing together all of these elements is some truly beautiful cinematography (One of the main reasons the classroom scenes feel so vibrant and kinetic) and incredible performances from the entire cast, but specifically Biscayart and Valois. The chemistry between these two men jumps off the screen and it is the work that they put in toward the end of the film that had me in full ugly cry mode. BPM is not an easy sit. It certainly takes its time showing us the lives of these characters (Both the tragedy and boredom are in there). But, it is a beautiful, raw story that needed to be told, especially now.

BPM is currently available to rent through Google Play, Amazon Video and iTunes.