In Northern Italy in 1983, seventeen year-old Elio begins a relationship with visiting Oliver, his father's research assistant, with whom he bonds over his emerging sexuality, their Jewish heritage, and the beguiling Italian landscape.
Early 1990s. With AIDS having already claimed countless lives for nearly ten years, Act up-Paris activists multiply actions to fight general indifference. Nathan, a newcomer to the group, has his world shaken up by Sean, a radical militant, who throws his last bits of strength into the struggle.
"BPM" (2017 release from France; 140 min.; original title "120 battements par minute" or "120 beats per minute") brings the story of a group of activists in Paris, France who are trying to raise awareness as to the deadly epidemic going through the gay community in the early 90s. As the movie opens, the Paris branch of ACT UP is welcoming 4 new members to its ranks. We witness the meeting where there is strong debate as to what action to take. Along the way, the movie focuses on one particular guy, Sean, as he struggles, health and otherwise. To tell you more of the plot would spoil your viewing experience, you'll just have to see for yourself how it all plays out.
Couple of comments: this is the latest movie of French director Robin Campillo, who previously gave us the excellent "Eastern Boys". Here he goes a very different direction, looking back at the dark days when AIDS was raging and little or certainly not enough was done by the government (with multiple stabs at then-president Mitterand) and the pharmaceutical industry. One of the strengths of the movie is that Campillo on multiple occasions lets the scenes play out without hurrying. There is little or no music to speak off in the movie, and again that only results in the film being ever more impactful (the last 40 min. pack an emotional wallop). Even though the Sean character is central, the movie comes across as an ensemble piece, with lots of stellar performances. Last but certainly not least, when watching this, I couldn't help but think back to that other AIDS movie from 2 decades ago, the Tom Hanks-starring "Philadelphia", in the "Hollywood version" of what AIDS was about. "BPM" easily blows "Philadelphia" out of the water. Bottom line: regardless of how you personally feel about the AIDS epidemic in the early 90s, "BPM" brings a sobering look and is nothing short of a masterful movie.
"BPM" premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival, where it was met with immediate critical acclaim (winning, among others, the "Grand Prix" award--in essence the silver medal as compared to the "Palm d'Or" gold medal). I happen to catch this movie during a recent family visit in Belgium. The early evening screening where I saw this at in Antwerp, Belgium, was attended very nicely, somewhat to my surprise. I would think this will eventually make it to US theaters, although given the nature of the film, this certainly cannot be taken for granted. If you have a chance to check it out, I'd encourage you to do so.
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