AIDS and activism in the 80s and 90s are inextricably entwined. Grassroots organisations like ACT UP were at the forefront of multifaceted agitation, lobbying, education and shock tactics to reduce the spread of the virus and increase research into treatment.
Set in the 90s, BPM follows the Paris ACT UP group and shows the thoughtful and considered structures behind their actions as well as the personal and tragic stories of those succumbing to the illness
Most in the group are HIV positive and are a range of ages, gender identities and sexualities, brought together by a common goal. Newbie Nathan (Arnaud Valois) is HIV negative but quick to put his hand up to participate in actions. Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart) continually clashes with the more diplomatic Thibault (Antoine Reinartz). Markus (Simon Guélat) is young and attends with his tiger of a mother, Hélène (Catherine Vinatier). Sophie (Adèle Haenel who had a tiny cameo in Nocturama) is outspoken and unafraid to challenge authority.
The group’s actions range from posters and stickers to fax bombing and invading pharmaceutical corporate functions and offices to throw fake blood. Some actions are joyous; Gay Pride floats and cheer leading routines show the power of the collective to raise their voice. Interwoven through this is the growing relationship between Sean and Nathan and the beautiful and sad moments as Sean’s health declines.
What could have been a dogmatic polemic about injustice becomes instead a profoundly moving story of the personal tragedy of AIDS. I remember at the time thinking the prospect of a cure for AIDS was wishful thinking; my cousin was HIV-positive and talked of a cure but it seemed so unlikely. With hindsight, I can see the debt owed to people like Sean and Sophie and Thibault who wouldn’t be silenced.
Activism is untidy and exposing but so necessary. My cousin, like so, so many, didn’t get to see a future where diagnosis, at least in developed nations, is no longer terminal.
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