La Maison de la Radio
Nicolas Philibert's Radio France documentary proves both fascinating and frustrating
French filmmaker Nicolas Philibert will be best known to international audiences for his excellent 2002 documentary Être et Avoir, a portrait of a single-room school in rural France. His latest work, La Maison de la Radio, takes the same fly-on-the-wall approach to showcase the inner workings of public broadcaster Radio France's seven national networks.
As these networks cover everything from news to music and youth programming, the resulting footage – ostensibly showcasing a day-in-the-life, but actually shot over a six-month period – is broad and eclectic. As his camera peeks in on offices, studios and outside broadcasts, Philibert takes great delight in the paradoxical behaviours it observes: an English-language hip-hop duo cuts to a DJ extolling the enduring virtues of classical music; a lighthearted story involving a horse and a cyclist cuts to reports of the Arab Spring uprisings, and so on.
While it may be a colourful human study, the film also proves to be something of a frustration. Philibert makes no concessions to audiences unfamiliar with Radio France, giving no context in terms of its make-up or remit, and no explanation of who is onscreen at any given time. This purely observational approach proves both disorienting and alienating and, perhaps intentionally, provides no sense of Radio France's identity beyond its four walls.
And, while much of the activity contained within is fascinating to watch (the perfectionist director of a radio play, for example, or a blind reporter using a Braille keyboard), the lack of narrative cohesion seems a missed opportunity in a place which tells, and holds, so many stories. By being content simply to gaze impassively at its subject, La Maison de la Radio simply doesn't get close to the heart of this particularly fascinating home.
Selected release from Fri 23 Jan.