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On the Pulse (Vivant)

Based on the filmmaker’s own experience as a news agency intern, French drama offers an intimate picture of the daily pressures both driving and afflicting investigative reporters - from the 80th Venice Film Festival

Gabrielle, played by the charming Alice Isaac, is determined to break into the competitive and ruthless world of television journalism. She arrives at the bustling offices of a prestigious news programme in Paris, where she manages to secure an internship in spite of her lack of experience. With her assertive candour, the young woman piques the interest of team leader Vincent (Roschdy Zem), who pushes her into action on the very first day.

Like Spotlight (Tom MacCarthy, 2016) and She Said (Maria Schrader, 2022) – biographical dramas about the journalistic investigations which uncovered the internal abuse inside the Catholic Church and Hollywood – On the Pulse is an understated and honest depiction of an unglamorous media vocation. There is no exclusive access to fashion shows or luxurious stays at 5-star hotels in Paris, as in the comedy-drama The Devil Wears Prada (David Frankel, 2006), about an aspiring journalist who lands an assistant role at a high fashion magazine. The one time that Gabrielle’s colleagues attempt to cover a fashion show, they are thrown out within minutes of a heated interview.

The intern quickly learns that pursuing this profession comes at a heavy cost – one that few are willing to pay. She watches her colleagues expose themselves to life-threatening situations, and their anxiety soar over the looming cancellation of the show. She shares their frustration when stories reach a dead end and the stress of having to be constantly alert. Ultimately, however, their deep bond is what shines through. The movie effectively conveys that such obstacles are integral to the job and help to foster an exceptional closeness between the characters. The small, tightly-knit team are bound by an urge to play an active role in current affairs, a need to feel “alive” – which is the direct translation of the original title of the film, Vivant.

Alix Delaporte’s third feature drama is, first and foremost, a homage to journalists who devote their lives to informing the public. There is a touch of nostalgia running through the film, which is amplified by an ongoing menace to the programme: the growing disinterest with hard news among younger audiences. Delaporte seeks to memoralise a form of journalism on the brink of extinction. But, in the end, the relationship between the journalists fails to move. With a movie that is so character-driven, we crave more incision into the central characters’ personalities. The intimate close-ups of cinematographer Inès Tabarin may communicate subtle feelings, but they only offer marginal insight into the characters’ inner worlds. The consequence is that I was not as invested in their lives as I could have been.

On the Pulse just premiered in the main selection of the 80th Venice International Film Festival.

By Gaelle Biguenet - 10-09-2023

Gaelle is a freelance journalist originally from France, and based in London. She was introduced to film as a thought-provoking artform upon watching Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966). Bergman’s dep...

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