BPM (Beats Per Minute)
⋆⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Not rated; in French, subtitled.
Theater: St. Anthony Main.
Young bodies gyrate, sway and sometimes fall into a hot embrace in the most ecstatic moments of this restless, engrossing dramatic portrait of Parisian activists fighting the AIDS pandemic in the early 1990s. Pitched between long, anxious scenes of group discussion that make up much of the narrative, these dance sequences, awash in throbbing electronica and neon-blue lighting, play like bursts of abstract punctuation — an opportunity for the characters to get some much-needed downtime.
“BPM,” which recently won the Grand Prix at Cannes and will represent France in the Oscar race, is steeped in vividly specific details, and moves with crackling urgency. The movie is a highly personal project for writer/director Robin Campillo (“Eastern Boys”), who drew on his experiences with the AIDS activist organization ACT UP. This is a sprawling, passionate tribute to the power of organized protest.
If that sounds dry or uninvolving, it isn’t. Plunging us into a not-so-distant moment when AIDS was decimating the LGBT community, this is clear-eyed, present-tense historical filmmaking that refuses the consolations of hindsight or nostalgia. Nary a moment passes when we aren’t reminded of how high the stakes are.
One might argue that in its final moments, marked by passages of breathtaking surrealism and mournful silence, the movie becomes indulgent and unwieldy. But the beauty of “BPM” lies in its willingness to embrace life in all its messiness, its refusal to pretend that the personal isn’t also political and vice versa.
JUSTIN CHANG, Los Angeles Times
The Square ⋆ out of four stars
Rated: R for language, sexual content and brief violence. In English and subtitled Swedish and Dutch.
“The Square” may be a superb movie. It won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes film festival against a crop of international rivals, so it is certainly prestigious. The previous movie by its director, Swedish satirist Ruben Östlund, was a brilliant, scathingly amusing film that I loved, “Force Majeure,” which turned an affluent family’s skiing holiday into an avalanche-level drubbing of upscale complacency, male idiocy and gender stereotypes, so this similarly themed film comes from good creative DNA. It is two hours and 20 minutes long, so it is a film of weight.
I do not understand it. I can scarcely describe its abstruse motifs, story, characters, attempted jokes, performances and cultural criticism, but I will try. This is an art house film about an art house, specifically a pretentious Stockholm museum devoted to progressive modern art. The curator (Claes Bang) oversees displays of stacking school chairs piled on their sides into ugly pyramids, and mounds of dirt heaped into miniature mountain peaks. He hosts formal dinners where museum donors are accosted by a performance artist pretending to be a hostile gorilla. He approves a publicity video on social media that shows a realistic image of a little girl blown apart with explosives. This causes different publicity than he expected.
There are awkward complications in his private life, as well. He goes to bed with a dimwit American reporter (Elisabeth Moss), who owns a large ape of her own, and has an extended tug of war with her over the used condom afterward. He launches a campaign to locate the unknown thief who stole his phone and wallet, triggering an especially unpleasant blowback. Every conflict is directly or implicitly tied to the art world’s linkages between reality and creative fantasy. Viewers fascinated by museum controversies may find profundity here. Good luck to everyone else.
The Paris Opera ⋆⋆⋆ out of four stars
Not rated; in French and English, subtitled.
Peering into executive-suite politics, rehearsals and the daily chores of hairdressers and laundry crew, this documentary is a well observed vérité portrait of a major cultural institution.
Director Jean-Stéphane Bron followed the eventful 2015-16 season, a period marked by labor strife, terrorist attacks in the capital and the rocky tenure of dance director Benjamin Millepied, the “Black Swan” choreographer (and husband of Natalie Portman). The film is most captivating in its focus on the singing side of the celebrated company — especially as seen through the eyes of a charismatic young Russian bass-baritone who’s a newbie in the opera’s academy.
SHERI LINDEN, Los Angeles Times