Robin Campillo is not a big fan of the limelight, but he’s happy to share it with BPM, a movie that he “really wanted” to debut at the Cannes Film Festival because he didn’t think it would have the same impact without such a launch pad. “I wanted to be in competition because we are more visible there,” he tells me. The film is France’s Oscar entry this year.Marrying his early activism with cinema has meant “the two great affairs of my life found each other,” Campillo says of the movie set in the early 1990s, as Act-Up Paris multiplies its efforts to fight general indifference despite the fact that AIDS already has ravaged lives for nearly a decade. In the story, Nathan (Arnaud Valois), a newcomer to the group, finds his world shaken by radical militant Sean (Nahuel Pérez Biscayart). Campillo himself joined Act-Up in 1992.
Deadline named Campillo a One to Watch ahead of BPM’s debut in Cannes this past May. And he has lived up to the suggestion since. The mixed-genre drama won the Grand Prize on the Riviera. It also scored the Queer Palm and the FIPRESCI. More recently, it scored a win as Best Foreign Language Film from the New York Film Critics Circle and tied for the honor with the the LA Film Critics Association. BPM has an Indie Spirit nomination as Best International Film and already won the Best European Editor prize from the European Film Academy. EFA has it nominated for Best European Film this coming weekend. Today, it landed on Sight & Sounds’ list of the Top 25 films of 2017. Campillo also edited and wrote the movie.
The consensus, he marvels, has been “enormous.” But it’s taken on different scales. When originally seen through the prism of Cannes, Campillo says some people were focused on politics or their emotions. “They really didn’t want to talk about cinema. People were so overwhelmed by the movie that I thought they didn’t see the film behind it,” he tells me.
Since then, he thinks audiences have been able to take a step back. In Spain, for example, he says, “It’s a film about the times, not a social message film. That’s not to cancel out the political or emotional dimension of the film — they’re there. But I didn’t want that to hide the importance of the film itself.”
Campillo allows that it’s difficult to explain the impact on his own life. “It’s true that for me cinema and the epidemic went together.” But at the time of his own 90s experiences, he was shocked to find that film wasn’t a tool being used to discuss what was happening. “It was a fight between the two” for Campillo, and BPM ultimately “resolves 25 years of my life… The two great affairs of my life found each other.”
While France has a strong history when it comes to the Foreign Language Oscar race, its fortunes have been mixed in recent years. Since 1948, the Hexagon has earned 40 nominations in the category and won 12 times. Last year, it looked to have a nomination lock with Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, but that film was not even shortlisted despite star Isabelle Huppert going on to a Best Actress nomination at the Oscars and a win at the Golden Globes (where the film won, too). The year prior, Deniz Gamze Erguven’s Mustang scored a nomination, ending a six-year dry spell for France. The last French film to win an Oscar was 1992’s Indochine.
The committees can be fickle to say the least, but France has a solid shot at landing on the shortlist this year, and potentially a nomination.
Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, co-founder of international sales agent Playtime (formerly FilmsDistribution), tells me he has never had better reviews on a movie that he’s worked on (and that includes past Oscar nominees and winners). In France, the film has sold over 800K tickets while box office in the U.S., where The Orchard has rights, is at about $84K.
Campillo is no stranger to the critical success of films he’s been a part of — he co-wrote and co-edited Laurent Cantet’s 2008 Palme d’Or winner The Class which also was nominated for an Oscar. He credits Cantet for getting him really involved in film after they met in the mid-80s and began to work on each other’s projects. Campillo’s directing credits also include cult fave Les Revenants (aka They Came Back) which became the source material for Canal Plus’ hit TV series, and Eastern Boys which won Best Film in Venice’s 2013 Horizons section.
Of the Oscar campaign, Campillo notes that Act-Up Paris was inspired by Act-Up New York so, “the fact that it comes back to the U.S. where the activism started, there is something very important historically and humanly. The film goes back to the source. It’s surprising and enjoyable to talk to people who thank me for the film and I want to thank them. That’s what is carrying me the most… The film is being seen and received by people about whom the film speaks.”