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Sounding Off: Portraits of Unusual Music

Saturday, September 10, 2011
6:30 p.m. Ne change rien
Pedro Costa (Portugal/France, 2009)

“It’s torture that I’m going through,” sings Jeanne Balibar, a French chanteuse of the damaged and bruised. This well-patinaed figure, lately the star of films by Rivette and Assayas, stands in a smudged shadow, now host to her smoky declarations. This is where the extraordinary Portuguese director Pedro Costa would have her, emerging from darkness just as her sad ballads find their origin in a dark-drenched sorrow. Chiaroscuro envelops the scene, a Costa gesture that seems intent on blurring the bounds of intimacy. Jeanne Balibar is ever-present, yet slightly intangible, like a forlorn seductress. Joining her is Rodolphe Burger, an exquisite musician whose guitar exudes a nebula of sounds. Minimal in his riffing, Burger envelops Balibar’s voice with a constellation of atmospheric tones, allowing her to circle back to her hard-won weariness. Songs are ruthlessly rehearsed, the stumbling rhythms barely managed, intonation repaired and redirected: this is no concert film, but a meditation akin to Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil. Only in Costa’s dusky portrait, the devil may care. 

—Steve Seid

• Photographed by Costa. With Jeanne Balibar, Rodolphe Burger, Herve Loos, Arnaud Dieterlen. (103 mins, In French and English with English subtitles, B&W, 35mm, From Northwest Film Forum)