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Robin Campillo • Director

"A community that grew up around the idea of surpassing your limits"


- CANNES 2017: Robin Campillo talks about the origins of BPM (Beats Per Minute), which was very well-received in competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival

Robin Campillo • Director
(© F. Silvestre de Sacy / Festival de Cannes)

After They Came Back and Eastern Boys [+see also:
interview: Robin Campillo
film profile
(unveiled in the Orizzonti section of Venice in 2004 and 2013, with the latter winning the section), French director Robin Campillo presented BPM (Beats Per Minute) [+see also:
film review
interview: Arnaud Valois
interview: Robin Campillo
film profile
in competition at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, a masterful, militant, moving and brilliantly directed film which plunges us into the heart of a group of Parisian Act Up activists.

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Cineuropa: Why did you choose to make a film about Act Up and this period in particular?
Robin Campillo: I joined Act Up in 1992. I experienced Aids and the 1980s as something extremely violent. Words weren’t getting through, it was sort of a taboo to talk about it. Like a lot of people who lived through those times, infected and not, I joined this group because I was angry. We wanted to stop being passive victims of the illness, instead becoming malicious fags that were going to try to break this taboo. What I wanted to portray, was the moment when we broke the silence, the liberating moment when people came together in an altogether rather joyful movement, hard as that was when people were dying all around us. It came completely naturally to me to pay tribute to this period, to think of all these small acts and make them into important historical events, a sort of epic jigsaw of all the little things. 

Where do your memories come into the screenplay?
These play a very important role. I made the film entirely on the basis of my memories, obviously rehashing them as I wanted to make a piece of fiction. What I was interested in was this relationship between the community and the way these people got together to no longer be alone, and form a political force to be reckoned with. But the illness kills off one of the main characters in the group, and that’s the fictional element: the curse of this illness. I wanted viewers to share my point of view, that which I had when I joined this group : there were things I didn’t understand, others I did, but there was life, people engaged in discussion and held events, even though these weekly meetings were only attended by 60-80 people each time. 

The rhythm of the film is very intense. You were the director, the screenwriter and the editor. How did you organise your work?
Around the issue of life and urgency. I wanted the film to encompass a series of metamorphoses and the viewer to not really have time to see how it moves from one scene to the next. But I also wanted the scenes to contain echoes of what was to come and for the previous scene to linger somewhat too, for there to be a sort of reverberation throughout the whole thing. The film is shot in a rather raw way, but the whole time I was thinking about these links, these impressions. I was thinking about them way back when I was writing the screenplay, but it’s something that really took shape during the editing. 

This is a film about activism, which poses questions about the way we take action.
What I felt I could do best was to use fiction to show what this type of activism was all about, not simply taking the viewer by the hand and explaining things or handing them a message. I nonetheless get the feeling that if Act-Up had this impact, it’s because these were people who didn’t really have a choice. It was their bodies that did the talking, people suffering in their own skin, who didn’t have unlimited time available to them and were already weak, were already undergoing treatment etc. It gives you a sense of urgency, a certain strength, power and energy. So it was a very personal political struggle. It’s a bit like the difference between fighting for a cause and being in the thick of the fight. This was about the struggle of a community which grew up around the idea of surpassing your limits. We were a small army that wanted to do something noble. 

The film contains elements of documentary, fiction, love and tragedy: it mixes a lot of genres.
I started with the idea of a film that changes form as it progresses, a film that cannot be pinned down in terms of genre and style. I love the idea of sliding between different genres and styles like in music where there’s a change in key that really throws you. I wanted to get that in there, because I think that in reality, we often topple over onto new plains quite quickly. When we’re sick, food has a different taste, there are different states of subconsciousness, and things we see everyday but don’t always see them in the same way. I believe in this range of nuance, and try not to give the viewer any points of reference.

(Translated from French)

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