We interview writer-director Alix Delaporte on On the Pulse (Vivants), a poignant film set in a newsroom that’s ultimately about family and experiencing life.
On The Pulse (Vivants) is Alix Delaporte’s third feature, after Angel & Tony (2010) and the Marcello Mastroianni Award-winning The Last Hammer Blow (2016). Both films premiered at the Venice Film Festival, and this year the writer-director returns to the Lido with that might be her most personal film to date.
The movie takes place in a newsroom, where a team of special correspondents are busy covering a variety of topics, some more dangerous than others, for their news program. The journalists in questions are Camille (Pascale Arbillot), Vincent (Roshdy Zem), Damien (Vincent Elbaz), Alex (Pierre Lottin), and Kosta (Jean-Charles Clichet), who, at the beginning of the movie, are joined by the newly hired Gabrielle (Alice Isaaz). With no experience and no training, Gabrielle is the eyes of the audience: as we watch her try to find her place in the team and understand the complex, ever-moving dynamics of their daily routine, so do we.
Eventually, we understand that the team is a family, held together not by blood, but by shared trauma and experiences. On The Pulse (Vivants) feels almost like it’s happening in real time, as we are placed right in the middle of the action with Gabrielle, but at the same time, we can feel the characters’ emotions at all times, and understand the special bond that ties them together. The end result is a moving, poignant film that’s only deceptively simple, as each and every character has a history that can be perceived at all times.
Alix Delaporte and co-writers Olivier Demangel and Jeanne Herry’s beautifully crafted screenplay lets the film’s message shine through only at the very end: On The Pulse is ultimately a film that reminds us of the importance of “experiencing” life instead of just “reporting” on it.
On the Pulse had its World Premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and we spoke with writer-director Alix Delaporte about the film’s origins and themes, the “search for the truth” in her filmmaking, her future projects, and more. Read the interview below!
Alix Delaporte on “Searching for the Truth” in On The Pulse, and Her Experiences as a Journalist
I love that your film feels like it’s constantly in motion, but at the same time we have these quiet, emotional moments when we can get into the characters’ heads. How did you manage to achieve this balance so well?
Alix Delaporte: Nothing is conscious. It’s only when a journalist asks these questions that you try to understand how you did things, but what I can say is that it took me a long time to write the film. My goal was to make the emotions feel natural, not forced: it’s a search for the truth, and it took time, in the writing. You have to spend a lot of time searching for the right words, the right moments where a character watches the other… And then, the editing part comes, and you’re still creating and searching for the actors’ truth as you’re editing. It’s the link between my work as a journalist and as a director: searching for the truth.
When it appears in a sequence that you write or that you shoot… It’s just magical! But it takes time. It’s like when you want to prepare a very good, sophisticated meal, or get your hair to look just right: it’s not that easy. It looks simple, but you’ve worked a lot on to make it look simple.
Would you say that On The Pulse is a personal film for you?
A. D.: On The Pulse was inspired by something I knew. I worked as a journalist, and as an intern in a press agency: I met those journalists, I learned from them. But I wasn’t interested in making an autobiographical film: I wanted it to be more universal than my own experience. I think the problems the characters face in the movie are similar to those faced by people in other industries. For example, in a pharmaceutical laboratory, they might have the same issues: budget reductions, very little time to do a lot of things… I wanted the film to be not only about journalism, but about any profession. I hope that people who aren’t journalists can recognise themselves, and the family they create in the job.
Have you experienced some of the situations you depict in your film, for example when it comes to war zones?
A. D.: I didn’t go to war zones myself, but I saw my colleagues come back from it. It was the year when I learned how to film, because I chose to be a camera reporter. What I learned from them is that when you go to war zones a lot, it really damages your psychological state of mind. And while the soldiers themselves are really looked after, with psychotherapists available as soon as they come back from war, journalists don’t get that. They think they are protected because there’s a screen between themselves and the action, but it’s not a protection. It’s an addiction: you want to go back, because it’s where you feel alive.
It’s like when you see a surgeon preparing for a very intense, delicate surgery. It’s scary, but there is a excitement too. I wanted to show that, if you want to show the problems of the world with what you do for a living, It doesn’t mean that you’re not a little bit selfish and you don’t want to find great stories too. And you’re very happy with feeling the “high” sensations that come with it.
Casting On The Pulse‘s Characters and Women’s Determination
Alice Isaaz, who plays Gabrielle, is incredible! Did it take you a long time to find her?
Alix Delaporte: It did, but I was not convinced at all at first. Okay. Her agent called my producer and said, “You should see Alice.” Maybe it’s because she was blonde, or maybe she was too pretty: something didn’t convince me about her. But at the audition, when she opened the door and she pronounced the first words I had written, it was like… She had worked so much. I could tell how much she had worked to prepare for the audition, and I’m very sensitive to this. Women just work so much more to achieve things.
We have to, don’t we?
A. D.: They’re so precise: it’s quite marvellous. It’s very moving, because you see them, and you know the struggle. They have to work so hard to get to the same level [as men].
Pascale Arbillot, who plays Camille, the head of the team, was fantastic too!
A. D.: She actually came to me! She said, “I want the part: this part is for me.” It was quite magical: she knew this was very important for her, because she could show something different, and she didn’t leave me any space to say no. She came and she said, “This has to be me.” I knew her, and I knew her work: she’s amazing. She’s always played great supporting roles for others, but I wanted to make her shine even if she’s in a supporting role: this is my feminism.
There’s a scene with a giraffe: was it a real giraffe?
A. D.: We shot the giraffe in Morocco! We interrogated the idea of bringing one to the set, but it would have been dangerous because giraffes get scared very easily.
What’s Next for Alix Delaporte
What are you going to do next?
Alix Delaporte: Something that’s going to take me less than nine years to complete! [laughs]
On The Pulse is like the end of a trilogy, to me. I feel that there is a link between all three films, and that link is family: the relation between humans, and how I like filming humans and humanity. Maybe my next film will be English: my grandmother was English, and I’d like to open my horizons and write in this language. But I think it won’t take me as long to complete my next film, because On The Pulse mixes two experiences of mine: being a reporter, and being a director. Those are my two languages, and now I feel complete. Perhaps I’ll make an action movie: I’d love to!
What’s your favourite action movie?
A. D.: I’m a big fan of Kathryn Bigelow’s, because her films are just so good! Detroit, The Hurt Locker… She mixes the action with the intensity of the characters’ feelings so well. Also, Denis Villeneuve‘s Prisoners, Michael Mann’s The Insider… Those are all films I love. I’d like to confront myself with more action.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
On the Pulse (Vivants) premiered at the Venice Film Festival on September 6, 2023.