A GAY IN THE COUNTRY – Part One: God’s Own Country and BPM (Beats Per Minute)


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Warning: SPOILERS
Though God’s Own Country could be described as England’s Brokeback Mountain, such a quick and superficial comparison should not take away from the startlingly effectiveness of both films.
The British story takes place in Yorkshire, a location as harsh and cold and unforgiving as the title implies (the phrase was first used to describe Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, but has come to be used to describe many locations, including Yorkshire, that are considered favored by God).

 

Johnny Saxby is the son of Martin and grandson of Deirdre, who make their living as sheep farmers. But Martin’s health is precarious and more and more of the responsibility has fallen to Johnny.

 

His father and grandmother treat him as if he were irresponsible and not taking the farm seriously, though he keeps claiming he can handle it. They’re not totally wrong, but they’re not totally right either.

 

Johnny drinks to access, is often depressed and desperately lonely. His only outlet is quick and meaningless sex with the occasional man he meets who is willing.

 

He’s not at home in God’s own country and is lost as to how not to be.

 

This all changes when his father temporarily hires Alec Secareanu, a Romanian immigrant (he left his home country because there is nothing there anymore). Alec is not the first help they have hired, but it may be the last as Johnny and Alec start a tenuous relationship.

 

As if often the case, the course of true love does not run smooth. And it’s the father and grandmother who figure out what is really going on before the two young men do.

 

God’s Own Country is writer/director Francis Lee’s first feature film. It is stark, but emotionally rich, set in a world that is mercilessly changing and only the strong and pliable can survive.

 

With Josh O’Connor and Gheorghe Ionescu as the two young men. They show fine chemistry and give empathetic performances.

 

Acting stalwarts Gemma Jones and Ian Hart play Johnny’s grandmother and father.

 

Meanwhile, in another country BPM (Beats Per Minute) is a film that I still have difficulty talking about and has gotten under my skin as very few films do.

 

It’s a fictionalized account of the early years of ACT UP Paris and the gay community’s response to the AIDS crisis, focusing especially on the love story of Sean, a member who is HIV Positive, and Nathan, who is HIV Negative.

 

The title is taken from the number of beats the heart has per minute, 120, and that is what the film feels like, a constant pulse of 120 beats over and over again as a group of people fight for their lives.

 

It’s a story about a group of people who are dying, but who do little with their lives but celebrate it and cling to it, refusing to give up.

 

It’s a story about a group of people who meet weekly, argue, go out and lose themselves in dancing at nightclubs, celebrate gay pride, disrupt pharmaceutical offices and medical gatherings and stage political theater equipped with fake blood balloons and dead one’s ashes, and fiercely fuck in the face of a deadly plague.

 

The screenplay by Robin Campillo and Philippe Mangeot, and the direction by Campillo, is done in a semi-documentary style punctuated with impressionistic scenes. It comes alive as few films do, almost a living, breathing chronicle of an earlier time.

 

The movie has small treasures as a series of scenes where the group disrupts high school classes to teach students about safe sex; one teacher rushes to stop them, one welcomes them telling her students to pay attention, this is important. Meanwhile, the camera focuses on a student silently watching unsure he is seeing what he is seeing, but perhaps discovering a previously unknown truth about himself.

 

And at the end, when Sean has died, all his friends gather at his and Nathan’s apartment, most too stunned and grieved to know how to feel. But his mother is calm and accepting (she is sleeping in the other room when he dies and her reaction to the news is, “so soon?”), making coffee, dressing her son with the same emotionality, someone who knows and understands the rituals of death.

 

With Nahuel Pérez Biscayat in a strong and devastating and beautiful wrought performance as Sean, who encapsulates the title’s meaning until, finally, he no longer can.

 

With Arnaud Valois as Nathan and Adele Haneal (also seen earlier this year in the wonderful The Unknown Girl) and Antoine Reinartz as leaders of ACT UP.

 

It should be noted that Robin Campillo is the co-writer of 2008’s The Class, a documentary style look at a high school class, and the director and co-writer of Revenants, one of the most haunting and finest television series of all time.

 

BPM (Beats Per Minute) won the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes, is nominated for three European film awards and is France’s entry in the Foreign Language Film category for the Academy Awards.

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