At the New York Film Festival: Ne Change Rien

10/09/2009 11:49 AM |

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Pedro Costa’s Ne Change Rien played last night at the New York Film Festival; the film is currently without distribution.

Intoxicating, or murky, Pedro Costa’s Ne Change Rien shows Jeanne Balibar the singer in action—in woodcut-severe chiaroscuro that’s like one long virtuoso riff on Don’t Look Back‘s spotlight long-shot. Better known as an actress (Duchess of Langeais), Balibar whispers and bellows and Dietrichizes here in recording studios (worrying phrases for the right rhythm and cadence) and in performance with a band (the longest rendition: “Johnny Guitar”). The darkness that prevails—often voiding three quarters of the screen—goes beyond nightclub ambience and toward benevolently drugged abstraction: the gibbous-waning slivers of Balibar’s facial contours, or a cat’s head in sudden sprawling close-up.

Technically, the pools of dark allow Costa (Colossal Youth) one major advance over many music documentaries: since shots overlap so much visually, the frame changes of cuts are less noticeable, and so the singer and her sonic textures feel like a continuous presence instead of something chopped up and served. But the long views on the band performances become astringent with no sense of the room or audience; the studio sessions benefit from a game guitarist’s vibe (as Balibar burbles over a Curtis Mayfield temp sample). A well-lit staged presentation of Offenbach is also shown—but here that means, somewhat obstinately, that only the pianist is shown, in profile. Working on the Offenbach with a voice teacher—only ever heard as an off-screen martinet—Balibar amusingly loses her cool (“Oh, putain!“), outside the climate-control muzziness of the studio.

Costa takes the title from one of the most worked-over songs, which can be found on Balibar’s 2003 and 2006 albums (as can the intra-festival hit “Torture”). (The movie itself expands upon a 2005 short.) On balance, Ne Change Rien stands up well among attempts by major directors to exert their force of style in renderings of fellow artists at work.