Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, headed for theaters, we’ve lined up a week of movies about musicians.
Ne Change Rien (2009)
Being a professional musician is a job. And like any other job, it can sometimes be a grind. Most music documentaries obscure that point, focusing on the glamour of stardom, the spectacle of performance, or the melancholy of life on the road. But what about the tedium, the long hours spent holed up in a studio or practicing for a gig? Leave it to Pedro Costa, the Portuguese master of “difficult” cinema, to shape a rockumentary out of the “boring” stuff that’s usually left on the cutting room floor.
One part concert film, three parts procedural on the recording process, Ne Change Rien—or Change Nothing, as it was dubbed in the States during a very brief theatrical run—finds Costa locking his perpetually static lens on the French actress-turned-singer Jeanne Balibar. Shot in gorgeously stark black and white, and devoid of interviews, backstory, or any indication of time or place, the film is literally nothing but performance footage. Often illuminated by a single source of harsh light, Balibar goes to work—singing smoky noir-pop onstage, jamming with her band backstage, and painstakingly perfecting her songs in the studio. As rock docs go, it makes Jean-Luc Godard’s Sympathy For The Devil look like Martin Scorsese’s Shine A Light.
Costa opens on a killer live cut—a bit of a red herring, given how little of what follows will resemble the conventional concert film. The song selection is telling, though: “Torture,” a Kris Jensen cover, teases the director’s focus on agonizing, exasperating process. In the film’s most pivotal scene, Balibar rehearses for what seems to be a part in an opera (though the details are never clarified), repeating the same lines over and over again, while an offscreen voice constantly interrupts to correct her. Viewers may feel her pain: Like most of Costa’s work, Ne Change Rien isn’t for everyone—or really, for anyone who can’t stomach epic long takes or a deliberate lack of incident. But the movie offers a rare glimpse into the mundane side of making music, acknowledging it as not just a creative endeavor, but also a formal discipline. Beyond all that, the film’s weirdly mesmerizing in its repetition, in part because the songs—moody guitar ballads, mostly—create such a trance-like atmosphere. As for Balibar, she remains an alluring enigma throughout. Praise be the artist profile that can demystify its subject’s methods and still preserve her mystique.
Availability: Ne Change Rien is available on DVD and to stream on Fandor.