The AIDS epidemicis cemented in American history as one of the most devastating periods for not only the LGBT community and for those living with HIV, but for the millions of families, friends, artists, and audiences who are still affected by it today. While many know the stories of early activists like Larry Kramer and Peter Staley, both staunch leaders in ACT UP New York, rarely do we hear about ACT UP’s international chapters.
The film Beats Per Minute, directed by Robin Campillo, is a gripping drama that highlights the experiences of French activists in the early-1990s with ACT UP Paris. BPM takes us to the weekly meetings — inside tightly-squeezed lecture halls, bursting with dozens of activists debating how to move forward politically in their fight to save lives and draw attention to the AIDS epidemic.
Campillo and his cowriter Philippe Mangeot were both involved with ACT UP Paris during those days, so they drew on memories to provide a compelling and authentic portrait of the times. Activists leading the Paris chapter were just as confrontational as ACT UP New York. As The Atlantic reports, volunteers would rush the stage at medical conferences and barge into pharmaceutical headquarters to fight against the capitalist approach they viewed as a central barrier stalling medical progress.
The story is told through the eyes of Nathan (Arnaud Valois), who is HIV-negative and new to ACT UP Paris, and who eventually falls in love with a prominent member of the group, Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). The film quickly shifts from a dynamic story of community action to an intimate, personal tale of love amidst a backdrop of stigma, homophobia, and activism.
With over 22 major award wins — including Best Foreign Language Film of 2017 by the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association — this isn’t a film to be missed, and it is now available on DVD, Amazon, and iTunes through its U.S. distributor, Passion River Films.