Film Review: Ne Change Rien

Coffee-table art book meets musical documentary in this enormously satisfying endeavor.

With Ne Change Rien, cinephile favorite Pedro Costa (Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?) takes a recording session and turns it into a dream-like journey. Actor/vocalist Jeanne Balibar (Va Savoir) is the arresting subject of this unusual film, which should attract a solid and enthusiastic art-house crowd.

The Portuguese Costa filmed the French Balibar during the rehearsals and recording sessions for her album, which includes an operatic number from Jacques Offenbach’s Le Perichole. During the painstaking process of making the recording, we witness Balibar singing and working closely with the studio musicians and technicians. Later, we also see Balibar performing in concert.

Shot by Costa himself in ultra-stylish black-and-white, Ne Change Rien seems less like a traditional documentary and more like an avant-garde film from another era (or another world!). Indeed, Costa’s digital camera turns the simplest setting, the recording studio, into a dark, hypnotic place with a seeming reach into a spatial infinity. Balibar’s voice is equally “dark” in its way, as we hear her meticulously yet almost effortlessly master each section of the challenging composition.

The deconstruction of a scant number of musical passages might remind some of One Plus One (aka Sympathy for the Devil), Jean-Luc Godard’s controversial 1968 documentary of the recording of a Rolling Stones album. The difference here is that Costa is more interested in formal beauty, both visually and aurally, and does not seem to be making a political statement—Godard’s raison d’etre (at least in 1968).

As dense or heavy as it sounds, however, Ne Change Rien also contains a few lighter moments, such as Balibar’s banter with her musicians, notably guitarist Rodolphe Burger, and an unexpected segue into Victor Young and Peggy Lee’s classic, “Johnny Guitar.” But even without this relief from the aesthetic austerity, Costa’s film is never dull. From the mellifluous vocalizing to the textured chiaroscuro, Ne Change Rien should put the most restless viewers into a healthy trance.