Although the film is comprised entirely of footage taken during musical rehearsals, recording sessions, and live performances, Pedro Costa’s Ne Change Rien is less concerned with the artistic process than it is with the play of light across a face or instrument, the smoky tones of a woman’s voice on the soundtrack, or the circular drone of a guitar. Working in his trademark half-lit DV, Costa films Jeanne Balibar (best known for her roles in Olivier Assayas and Jacques Rivette films, but also an accomplished vocalist) as she sings with her quartet or rehearses for and performs in a musical, crafting from her half-finished musical warblings something like a semi-radical trance film.
The first scene establishes the approach: Costa dots his pitch-black screen with a few white circles on the ceiling, a sliver of light denoting Balibar’s shoulder and the bare outline of a guitar and a drum set. As the singer teases out lyrics about lost loves, Costa keeps his camera fixed in place—the few patches of visible light combining with the music to build to a hypnotic drone. As the film progresses, this trancelike effect increases, reaching its peak in a sequence that represents the film’s radical core. For over 20 minutes, Costa fixes Balibar and her guitar player with his static camera as they rehearse (filming in a monotone chiaroscuro that bathes the figures in heavy shadows), the former repeating the same seven notes over and over while the latter hashes out the same mesmeric rhythm.
It’s a ravishing bit of pure cinema, and a litmus test for the viewer’s capacity to withstand the director’s exacting formalism. But it’s hard to work your way out of its rhythmic pull. From there, there’s an inevitable pulling away, a move into the light, with moments of backstage banter and sensuous live performances emerging alongside the repetitive hum. At the end of the film, Costa gets close to commenting on the creative process, twice deconstructing the edifice of the band’s polished product by isolating Balibar’s voice as she records her vocals, then suddenly cutting in the backing track for astonished effect. But such commentary seems nearly incidental to the project. Ne Change Rien is finally about attuning yourself to the work’s incantatory rhythms, its ravishing play of black and white, and above all, to Balibar’s voice, by turns smoky and operatic—and to the endless flow of music as it drifts magnificently by.