Which is inherently scarier? An external shock to the body – such as a parachute jump; or an internal shock to the body – such as a virus. What about if you combined the two? Vivant! is a tender look at 5 HIV+ men who spend a week camping together at a converted airbase as they prepare for their first solo sky dive. They must learn how to jump and how to fall, and at the same time get to know each other and how each has adapted to the illness.
Good documentaries are all about empathy and insight and Vivant! offers a purely observational viewpoint of 5 gay men who live with HIV talking about the impact it has on their lives. Director Vincent Boujon and the filmmakers do not interject and ask questions and there are no ‘talking heads’ interviews, the camera just collects their discussions as they sit round the campsite and talk – sometimes for up to 10 minute sequences.
What is remarkable about the men is how frank they are and how therapeutic the conversations become for them. At one point one of the five admits that he is now comfortable taking his meds in public after talking openly about their combination therapy (one admits to taking 27 pills a day...). The other thing is that as they all contracted the disease in different ways and at different times, it is fascinating (and heartbreaking) to hear about how attitudes and medicine has changed over the years – especially in regards to the controversial DZT drug (told in much more detail in David France’s How To Survive A Plague).
Their incredibly compelling and intimate conversations show the power of observational documentary. Certain topics that are raised are rarely, if ever, spoken about; such as seropositive men (HIV+) having sexual relationships with seronegative men (uninfected) and the risks and pleasures involved within ‘serodiscordant’ relationships. The men also have a very grounded acceptance with their HIV statuses – they are comfortable talking about their treatments and they do not blame their partners for what has happened to them, they just want to survive.
At one point one of the men compares the anxiety leading up to the jump with the worry experienced whilst awaiting test results from a series of bloodtests – both shocks to the system that require a ‘leap’ into the unknown to get through them. Vivant! is a funny, tender and touching film about internal and external courage and making the most of the life that you have been given.