Director Robin Campillo and his two lead actors discuss the making of BPM (Beats Per Minute), the importance of Act Up, and coming out of the AIDS closet.
When Robin Campillo’s BPM (Beats Per Minute) premiered in Cannes a few months ago, it was incontestably one of the strongest and most powerful titles of the festival. Released in France in August, the film has been a popular success at the box-office, and has continued to garner strong reviews at TIFF in September. BPM follows the young and handsome Nathan (Arnaud Valois) as he joins the Parisian branch of Act Up (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power). Set in the early 1990s, in the midst of the AIDS crisis, the film shows the early days of the advocacy group as it relentlessly works to limit the spread of HIV/AIDS and to get government officials and laboratories to help with treatment.
Structured around the meetings and protests of the organisation, BPM follows the relationship that quickly forms between Nathan and Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart), another member of the organisation. The film glides between their intimate romance, the meetings of the organisation, and the sex lives of all the characters with a daring and exhilarating lack of concern for genre boundaries — politics, love, and pleasure all casually meld into one.
As Campillo’s third film is set to represent France at the Oscars, The Seventh Row interviewed the director alongside the film’s two leads, back in Toronto.
The Seventh Row (7R): Why this project and why now?
Robin Campillo (RC): Well, to put it simply, there have been two big stories in my life: the AIDS crisis and the cinema. It required an infinite amount of time for these two things to synchronise. In the last seven or eight years, I’ve realised that what I wanted to do was what had always been right in front of me: my time in Act Up.'There have been two big stories in my life: the AIDS crisis and the cinema.' - Robin CampilloClick To Tweet
What I wanted to tell about this epidemic was this moment. I didn’t want to tell about the moments before, when, at the beginning of the epidemic, we were just good old gays dying one after the other — just victims of that illness. I wanted to tell about the moment when we became mean gays who decided to be more aggressive and to change the perception of that illness without looking like victims. When we decided to take back the power politically, to reinvent ourselves, to produce something to change this order of things that was crushing us.'We became mean gays...to change the perception of that illness without looking like victims.'Click To Tweet
Ever since I realized that I was gay — I was about 4 or 6 years old — I was proud of it. Almost jealous of my secret, even. I loved the clandestinity of it. When you’re black, usually the rest of the family is black, too; but when you’re gay, it’s very rare that other people in your family are gay, too.
So you have a secret that you keep from your parents, from your brothers and sisters, etc… I always thought that this secret was an asset and a blessing. Something fantastic. I could see the same sort of thing among my other friends who were maybe gay or lesbians, and I found that extremely interesting. I think that, at the time, I was telling myself that I was a bit like Jean Cocteau or Oscar Wilde: a dandy. Homosexuality as dandyism. It was great.'When the epidemic arrived I realised the dandy who lives clandestinely was unbearable and untenable'Click To Tweet
When the epidemic arrived, I realised that this image of the dandy who lives clandestinely was unbearable and untenable. Because suddenly, the invisibility of homosexuality was a factor in the large number of people being contaminated. All of a sudden, this posture — being alone in your corner — was too easy for the bourgeois order. It had to be destroyed.'Being alone in your corner was too easy for the bourgeois order. It had to be destroyed.' -Campillo Click To Tweet