Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 30, 2009 1:53 pm 
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Visual poetry and relaxed musical moments from Pedro Costa, Philipe Morel, and Jeanne Balibar

Ne change rien/Change Nothing (a phrase from a song) is a departure from the usual focus of Pedro Costa. The Portuguese director, who has linked himself with Tourneur, Bresson, Ozu, Lang, Hawks, Lubitsch, Walsh and Chaplin, to name a few, has acquired a very special reputation among cinephiles over the past couple of decades for his artfully non-invasive films depicting mostly natives of the Cape Verde islands, both at home and in Portugal, on digital, in black and white, with low light, and using fixed camera setups and non-actors but resorting to many takes.

This new film of French actress and Jacques Rivette muse Jeanne Balibar recording and in rehearsal singing songs by a variety of composers (French and American songs, and an Offenbach opera) with a small (and twice a larger) combo fulfills the sometime promise of the New York Film Festival or any festival to provide "documentary" material that is out of the ordinary, because Ne change rien is not merely informative but stylish, beautiful, thought-provoking, perhaps even profound.

Costa keeps to his usual visual style with fixed camera positions, digital black and white, and low light and square aspect ratio. This time the effect is sometimes elegant, like a fashion shoot. Balibar is not exactly beautiful but she has good bones and the big eyes, full lips, and lean and rangy frame of a a fashion model -- but her face isn't opaque like a model's. It's sweet and soulful, and sometimes here, fatigued, though she goes through endless repetitions, like a good actress used to many takes, without complaint. The repetitions are engineered by the musicians, though; Costa simply shoots, cutting seamlessly, almost invisibly, from one moment, venue, or camera position to another.

The main musicians identified are Rodolphe Burger, Hervé Loos, Armond Dieterdan, and Joel Thieux. The sound engineer was Philippe Morel. Sometimes the image disappears or the artists are not on camera, but the audio is always in the foreground, and powerful. The languorous French rock sound isn't always winning, but there are irresistible moments, and this film catches the always appealing magic of musicians collaborating in a format that is at once simple, "minimal" (except that less is so often more) and enormously stylish. Other credits can be obtained on Costa's website. There are rock songs, love songs and ballads, and a quote from Godard, and a scene shot in a Tokyo bar, and others shot in a barn in Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines. There are subtitles, and it would have been good if they'd continued when Balibar sang in English, because the words are not clear.

The film was included in the Director's Fortnight at Cannes, where it received raves. But it does not open in Paris till January 2010. Included in the main slate of the New York Film Festival at Lincoln Center 2009.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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