Pilule Alpha: Cannes Première

This year’s edition of the Cannes Film Festival included NEXT, a series of screenings and demonstrations of new technologies that are expected to disrupt cinema as we know it [1]. Although mostly centered on virtual reality, two interactive films were also part of the program.


Unlike Late Shift (Weber, 2015), which was presented the next day, Pilule Alpha (Diderot, 2016) had never been screened before. Perhaps such a high-profile premier wasn’t the best of ideas, considering the series of setbacks that were to affect the experience negatively, and that could have been anticipated and prevented [4].

The immersion started before entering the projection room [10], when a group of people dressed as nurses welcomed us and asked each member of the audience to download an app to their smartphones. Most of us were foreigners, dependent on the WiFi connection at the Palais Des Festivals, which was too unstable and slow to support all of our devices simultaneously; thus, the organizers instructed us to connect to the WiFi network which had been established specifically for the screening.

After fifteen or so painstaking minutes -our generation is no longer willing to wait that long for a simple download [1]-, we were finally allowed in. The “nurses” offered a pill to every spectator, giving us a choice between orange or purple, and told us to not take it until we were instructed to do so.

PILULE ALPHA by Vincent Diderot – Trailer

Once inside, we received directions on how to operate the app, and yet more delays were caused by the need to offer technical support to those whose apps kept on crashing.

Nearly thirty minutes after the scheduled time, projection began. Victor, the quirky director of the fictional clinic Montplaisir presented his new creation: a pill that allows to control human emotions by using a smartphone as a remote control.

He then proceeded to make a demonstration of the product using an ex-convict as the guinea pig. The audience could vote on the sort of emotions and actions that we wanted the man to feel or perform. Later, it was the director himself that accidentally swallowed a pill, giving us a chance to manipulate him as well.


Those in the audience could see how our selections or lack thereof affected the narrative [5], and the way Victor addressed us from the screen made us feel as if we had become part of the story [8, 9]. Figuring out how to intervene in the outcome was an experience of discovery for a few of us, for whom this had been our first approach to interactive films [2].

Despite the comedic aspect of the story, the viewing experience produced frustration [10]. The continuous glitches and crashes that mostly impacted Android users limited the extent to which we could participate [5], and kept us from truly immersing in the experience, making us constantly aware of the flaws in the software [1].

There was also a certain anxiety amongst the spectators, being required to constantly refocus our attention from the big screen to that of our mobile devices [1]. It remains yet to be determined in years to come, whether audiences are or not able to retrain their brains to this new type of spectatorship [1].

Some,  including myself, opted to stop using the app altogether and concentrate on the choices that the rest of the audience made. Simultaneous unease and liberation were felt: on the one hand, we no longer had the power to intervene in the story; on the other, we were no longer being held responsible for whatever happened onscreen [10], allowing us to lay back, relax and enjoy the show, just as we would have done with any non-interactive movie [2].

Once the movie was reaching the end, it became the ultimate floating work of art [8]: the director of the clinic came out from behind the screen and walked towards us, while still seemingly suffering the selections made by the public through the app. In reality, as I later learned, the actor was following a pre-rehearsed performance, and not acting out the commands selected by majority vote despite the perception of the public of having a choice [2, 9].


While very little of of character development was made, the rest of the dramatic elements were definitely present, with the addition of interactivity as one more of the components of the montage [2, 4]. Some of the narratemes described by Vladimir Propp were also observed [4, 12].

On a different topic, the synchronization of sound along the projection maintained the illusion of continuity, and helped mask the jumps every time a selection was made by the public [6].

The retro ambiance of the film seen in the colors chosen, the characters’ clothing and expressions contrasted with the fact that we were seeing the product of recent technology [7], at the same time it allowed the spectators, no matter our generation or country origin, to relate to the story [9].

There is no doubt that the premeditated perception of unpredictability [3] kept the audience interested and involved [2]; other than the details offered by the summary in the festival’s program and the trailer, creators have decided to reduce the amount of additional information available [1].

Given the necessity to have a large audience so the voting process works [8], as well as the performance aspect of that very first screening, one can’t help but wonder what sort of distribution model the creators intend to follow in the future [7].

Unless the director desires glitches to become part of the film’s projection experience, such issues must be resolved before future screenings if the original aesthetic and intention are to be maintained [3]. Even if the flaws were to be kept, it is clear that no other screening will replicate this episode [2, 6].

It becomes evident after situations like this, that the role of art creators should no longer  be restricted to the authorship of an idea or concept; they must also get involved in the technical aspects of the project considering the importance those have for audiences, particularly given that this is one of their first approaches to the hybrid role they have in interactive films [3].

Word count: 993.

BY: Victoria Eloise Zunhiga


[1] NECSUS. “Reconfiguring Film Studies Through Software Cinema And Procedural Spectatorship.” 2014.

[2] Ng, Jenna. “Viewing Interactive Cinema In Kinoautomat and Sufferrosa.”

[3] Hassapopoulou, Marina. “Reconfiguring Film Studies Through Software Cinema And Procedural Spectatorship.”

[4] McVeigh, K. Margaret. “Making the Connection: Lev Manovich’s Texas and the Challenges of Interactive New Media Narrative.” 2011.

[5] Barker, Timothy. “Objects and Interaction.” 2011.

[6] Kinder, Marsha. “Designing a Database Cinema.”

[7] Balsom, Erika. “A Cinema In The Gallery, A Cinema In Ruins.” 2009.

[8] Dinkla, Söke. “The Art Of Narrative – Towards The Floating Work Of Art.”

[9] Hassapopoulou, Marina. “Interactive Cinema From Vending Machine to Database Narrative: The Case of Kinoautomat

[10] Huhtamo, Erkki. “Seeking Deeper Contact: Interactive Art As Metacommentary.”

[11] “Propp’s Morphology of the Folk Tale.” Changing Minds. <http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/propp/propp.htm&gt;

[12] Diderot, Denis. Pilule Alpha. 2016.