Ne Change Rien (Change Nothing) unfurls in slow motion glory like the opening of a flower to meet the morning sun. And thanks to the attentive, fly-on-the-wall presence of filmmaker Pedro Costa, we're front and center for the blooming of actress/musician Jeanne Balibar's second album as she and the musicians working with her conceive and record the songs that populate it.
As a music documentary, Ne Change Rien operates far outside the standard, exposition-filled format that most viewers have come to expect from the genre. With the exception of a few exchanges between the musicians and a spare aside or two to the camera, Balibar and her band are entirely focused on the task at hand, all while Costa's cameras silently capture the act of creation as it occurs. Those unfamiliar with Balibar's vocal delivery will find it resides pleasantly somewhere in the neighborhood of Brigitte Fontaine, Marianne Faithfull, and, at its most dramatic moments, Nico. The surprising derivation from that mode of vocalization: when we're privy to Balibar's opera rehearsals and lessons with her private voice instructor.
Costa shoots the action in exceptionally high-contrast images that, for the majority of the film, are swimming in darkness. The presence of black within the majority of each frame is so pervasive that it comes as a complete shock when the polarity shifts here and there, moving to compositions bathed in brilliant white. So dramatic is the shift, the band seems nearly naked in these moments, unprotected as they are by the shadows.
This is a breathtakingly beautiful film, one where the tone of the music and the look of the images are matched perfectly. It's an effortless study in intimacy and distance, among the best documentaries I've seen in recent times on the topic of the creative process. Highly recommended.
Ne Change Rien (Change Nothing) screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium (in the Portland Art Museum) on Friday, July 13th at 7pm and Sunday, July 15th at 5pm. More info available here.
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