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Xavier Gens On Shooting ‘The Divide’ In Sequence, Improv, And Whether He’d Like To Survive A Nuclear Blast

Earlier this week, Anchor Bay released The Divide as a Blu-ray/DVD combo. The film is bleak as all get out, and I imagine many of you will be disturbed and engrossed by the depths many of its characters go to in order to eke out some kind of survival. Director Xavier Gens (Frontiers) does not shy away from dark places.

I recently conducted an interview with Gens via email, and though I obviously couldn’t hear the tone of his voice I was surprised at how [comparatively] lighthearted his answers were. We spoke about his decision to shoot in-sequence, rumors of tension on set, and if – in the event of a nuclear blast – he would prefer to live or die.

In this graphic and violent, post-apocalyptic thriller starring Michael Biehn, Milo Ventimiglia, Rosanna Arquette, Courtney B. Vance and Lauren German are, “nine strangers—all tenants of a New York high rise apartment—escape a nuclear attack by hiding out in the building’s bunker-like basement. Trapped for days underground with no hope for rescue, and only unspeakable horrors awaiting them on the other side of the bunker door, the group begins to descend into madness, each turning on one another with physical and psycho-sexual torment. As supplies dwindle, and tensions flare, and they grow increasingly unhinged by their close quarters and hopelessness, each act against one another becomes more depraved than the next. While everyone in the bunker allows themselves to be overcome by desperation and lose their humanity, one survivor holds onto a thin chance for escape even with no promise of salvation on the outside.

Head inside to check out the interview! The Divide is now available as a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

The subject mater of the film is incredibly tough. What attracted you to the material?

For me it was interesting to explore the dark side of human beings and how they can lose their humanity. It’s something close to the thematic work of Pasolini, I’m fascinated by a movie like Salo. And I think The Divide tries to explore that, it explores some dark dimension of human soul. It’s a continuity of the work I started on frontier(s).

Michael Biehn mentioned that there was a lot of improvisation on set. How did this inform some of the key moments and character shifts in the film?

I love working with improvisation, it’s very organic. I ask the actors in prep to improv some moments and to bring in new ideas all the time. I like to create new things everyday. And the actors were very generous, so I let them have a lot of space. And some conflict emerged because some actors were closing in on the space of the others, but it was a necessary conflict which really helps the performance of the cast. When you watch Lauren German in the film she is really amazing, and so beautiful, it’s because she was insecure by what the others were doing. When you watch Rosanna Arquette in the film, like she is in the dark side of the film, she was bringing always crazy ideas. For example, it’s her who brought in the idea of the period scene, which I think is one of the most disturbing moments of the film.
You had an extremely brief shooting schedule, yet the look of the film is quite striking and polished. What tricks did you and your DP (Laurent Bares) employ to achieve this?

We put light everywhere and shot long sequences on steadicam. Brad Hruboska (the steadicam camera operator) is an amazing guy, he was carrying the steadicam all day long for 12 or 13 hours. It was a very exhausting shoot for him, but that way of shooting gives a lot of freedom for the actors to play all of the scenes in continuity without cutting for different coverage. So sometimes we were shooting one shot for more than 15 minutes long and you can imagine the energy the actors got from that.

Michael Biehn described the mood onset as being tense. Do you agree? How do you think the tension informed the final product?

Yes there were a lot of tension on the set, but also a lot of friendship. It was a necessary tension, the film tells the story of a the collapse of a micro-society, so some of the tension was created by the actors themselves to be in the mood of the scene. And since they had a lot of freedom sometimes some of them didn’t know what the others would do. So you have to decide in which camp you go. The camp of people who like surprises, like me, or the camp of people who prefer to stay on their marks.

What was the benefit of shooting the film in chronological sequence?

It’s the best way to work. The actors can follow the evolution of their characters. If I could, I would do it again in my next film. I love actors so much, it’s why I want to give them a maximum of service to have the best performance possible.

The film to me feels pessimistic towards the fate of humanity. In particular, it feels pessimistic about the ability to retain humanity under cataclysmic circumstances. Do you see a silver lining in the film regarding this? 

It’s my point of view on humanity, actually. People are so selfish, they are so scared of losing money or things. That materialistic attitude will bring us to our end if it continues like that. It’s a bit innocent, but I dream of a world without war. Just peace, love and freedom for everybody. But… Life [and the] Earth are such gifts! We should think about it.

Early in the film, we are introduced to intruders in radiation suits who abduct and experiment on Marilyn’s daughter. What were they doing to her? Why did you opt not to explore this further?

The film is from the point of view of the group in the shelter, so it was impossible to create a dramatic irony about what happens with the guys in hazmat suits. For me they abduct children to put them in cryo and wait for the survival of our humanity. But they don’t have supplies, it’s why we saw one of them steal a gallon of water. They experiment on children to find solutions to keep them alive for the future.

In the event of a nuclear attack – would you prefer to be immediately incinerated or would you like to attempt to survive?

I would hope to survive, in a rocket to another world with girls from Victoria Secret on an paradise island… I’m kidding! Dying in the blast!



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