Venice 2023 review: Vivants (Alix Delaporte)

“Clearly a passion project for Alix Delaporte, a love letter to the world of television journalists and the risks they take both at home and abroad.”

Almost a decade after her previous film Le dernier coup de marteau premiered in Competition at Venice, Alix Delaporte returns to the festival with a low-key yet incisive dramedy exploring the hectic lives of a group of reporters working at a French news show. Through the eyes of inexperienced intern Gabrielle (Alice Isaaz), we are introduced to the team-reporter-turned-editor Vincent (Roschdy Zem) and reporters Camille (Pascale Arbillot), Damien (Vincent Elbaz), Alex (Pierre Lottin), and Kosta (Jean-Charles Clichet) – who are all torn between their journalistic duty to present in-depth reporting on worthy subjects while being subjected to crippling budget cuts and puff piece assignments by their TV station overlords.

Delaporte worked as a reporter before becoming a filmmaker, and her passion for the profession is evident throughout the film. Observing the reporters on the job in high-risk and relatively mundane environments, she shows how these people are driven by their passion for presenting the harsh realities of the world – whether the disastrous consequences of underfunded hospitals, the cruelties of animal testing, or the corrupt relations between local governments and organized crime – to their audience. These reporters can be overly cocky (to the detriment of getting the stories they need) and occasionally sneaky with their tactics, but as Delaporte makes clear this is less the result of a lack of ethics than due to the increasingly cutthroat world of TV news, where even a brief drop in audience interest leads to cancellation and a stressful job hunt. Delaporte’s direction for the most part is not overly showy, rather casually fluid in the way she weaves through the vignette-like structure of the film, but an early sequence in which the audience observes a ride-along with an ambulance driver is impressive in how Delaporte uses flourishes such as a dashcam and DV footage in order to make the viewer feel as if they’re part of the experience.

Delaporte’s keen observational instinct extends to the personal lives of her characters. In the moments where she observes the alternately warm and prickly office relationships within the group, Delaporte shows how the bond between them is what energizes their work despite all obstacles. The loose hangout vibe of the office scenes extends to the rest of the film – one can’t help but wish that some of the sequences with higher emotional stakes had more of a sense for the danger and consequences. At a slender 83-minute runtime, the film sometimes feels too lightweight for such a serious topic; one wishes that more time could have been spent further developing the characters and demonstrating the precarious nature of working in TV news. However, this lightness of tone does lend itself well to an ending that embraces a flight of fancy in order to remind us of the beauty of simply living in the moment without feeling the need to obsessively capture it via technology.

The film is also hugely helped by a talented ensemble that are perfectly in sync. Alice Isaaz is an ideal audience surrogate as Gabrielle – wide-eyed without leaning too hard into the “ingenue” clichés, prone to mistakes, and driven by an awakened passion for the power of journalism. Isaaz brings a refreshing forthrightness to the role that helps separate both the character and the performer from the typical role of a young person finding their way in the world. Roschdy Zem continues to demonstrate that he is one of the most effortlessly charismatic actors currently working, and he succeeds in making Vincent a more complex character than he initially appears. Although clearly exhausted by the pressures put on him by work and home life, he draws strength from his deep friendships with his co-workers and is inspired by seeing the much younger Gabrielle tackling her work with enthusiasm, giving him hope for the future of his profession. The rest of the cast does solid work, with Jean-Charles Clichet being the standout of the supporting cast as Kosta, a reporter who’s a mess in his personal life and in the office but who can unleash a righteous journalistic fury when the time calls for it. Vivants may not be treading new ground with its exploration of the world of TV news, and is occasionally too relaxed in tone when more tension would work wonders. But it is clearly a passion project for Alix Delaporte, a love letter to the world of television journalists and the risks they take both at home and abroad. Watching the film, the viewer gains a new appreciation for the difficult and underfunded work that these people do under difficult circumstances.