Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NE CHANGE RIEN: Pedro Costa does Jeanne Balibar at Anthology Film Archives

Our own Jeanne Balibar (yes, TrustMovies is getting posses-sive about this unique French actress/singer who reminds him, physically, at least, of his mother, his ex-wife and his daughter) receives the Pedro Costa treatment for the next two weeks here in New York, as Costa's latest creation, NE CHANGE RIEN (Change Nothing) opens for a two- week run at Anthology Film Archives. That treatment, if Costa's earlier work (of which TM has seen only Colossal Youth) is to be taken as example, includes the kind of chiaroscuro effects reminiscent of Rembrandt; static close-ups shot at odd, enticing angles; and a certain, well, very slow pace.

There's more. Because Balibar sings -- and very well -- in a number of styles, you'll also hear some good music, provi-ded by Balibar, guitarist Rodolphe Burger (shown with guitar, two photos below), and a few others. In addition to singing smoky, jazz-inflected numbers, the chanteuse can handle with equal facility light opera such as Offenbach's La Périchole, and Costa (shown at right), captures the scenes of rehearsals and/or maybe a performance, as well. (It's hard to tell, precisely, because the filmmaker places his camera in a single spot -- evidently, a signature style -- in this case, behind the piano accom-panist, which helps Costa's presence seem less obtrusive to the performers and musicians, but relegates us to remaining out of the loop. (For more Balibar and music, be sure to catch The Joy of Singing -- a very different type of "musical" film.)

There's a hypnotic quality to the filmmaker's work. This is a double-edged sword, because, as beautiful as the images can seem, be careful: Before long you may find yourself asleep. (That's what hypnotists do, right?) Yet the beauty of the images -- the silvery, smoky moments (as above) -- may keep you alert for quite awhile.

Costa and his crew of performers allow us to see the importance of the rehearsal process and how this works, in all its boredom and necessity: necessary for the performer but finallly boring for the onlooker. At one point Balibar says she wants to syncopate a bit, and so she does -- and does and does.  And we finallly see how a perfomer "gets it": practice, practice, practice. The movie begins with a fulll song, but it's 35 minutes into things before we get another one. Yet, at that point, everything we've seen and heard in bits and pieces -- all that practice -- finally comes together.

There's a wonderful scene between Jeanne and her singing teacher (unseen but certainly heard) in which the teacher stops Balibar again and again until she captures what her instructor deems necessary.  The frustration is palpable, and you wonder if the performer will make it through the lesson without an explosion.

Meanwhile, the filmmaker is discovering other things to show us: a cat, asleep and then awake; a pair of Asian women (But where? Outside the rehearsal studio, perhaps?), a rehearsal with the firelight from a stove glowing in the background. The black-and white cinematography is as rich as you might expect. There's one scene in which we hear only Balibar's voice, as she listens to and sings with the music (music that we're not hearing). This scene delivers that wonderful voice in spades. Occasionally the rehearsal seems to grow into almost a performance, and our excitement and anticipation heightens

The "work" of rehearsal is what comes through most strongly here. We rarely see Balibar in repose. Instead it's all music, all the time, with much of that music rich and vibrant. Fans of Balibar and Costa will seek out this movie, and rightly so. Others may be enticed and, depending on their tolerance for stationery camera-work and the rehearsal process, will stick with this unusual film. Or not.

Ne Change Rien opens at Anthology Film Archives for a two-week run, November 3 - 16, with Costa appearing in person (check the AFA Schedule for specifics dates and times. Also in this program/
series is Pedro Costa Selects, for which Costa has curated a group of films that demonstrate radical approaches to cinematic portraiture or musical documentation: from Godard and Eustache to Jack Smight and Thom Andersen. Check here for the films and showtimes, and here for directions to AFA.

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