Ne change rien: A Musical Salute to French Cabaret Star Jeanne Balibar

Pedro Costa, legendary for his intimate, epic, underlit, and often inaudible portraits of Lisbon slum dwellers, here ponders the mystery of the contemporary French actress-turned-(or-perhaps-playing)-chanteuse, Jeanne Balibar. Something between a portrait and a performance doc, Ne change rien opens with Balibar's fabulously deadpan cover of Kris Jensen's pop rockabilly lament "Torture," but, not a filmmaker to follow one crowd-pleaser with another, Costa immediately risks losing the audience with half an hour of Balibar's relentless drone scatting a single verse. Accompanied for much of the movie by a single reverb-heavy guitar and a snare drum, Balibar demonstrates a carefully calibrated lack of affect and a voice as smoky as a carton of Gitanes. Typically, one-fifth of the screen is illuminated, the extreme chiaroscuro lighting rendering the singer's harlequin-featured face as a crescent moon in the inky void. Ne change rien is entrancing—literally. I saw it at a 10 a.m. screening in Cannes and stumbled out as if from an after-hours bar. On one hand, the movie is powerfully soporific; on the other, it has a controlled, hypnotic, Sufi energy. The cinematography is stunning and beyond atmospheric. The music is highly intelligent. Balibar as Balibar is undeniably charismatic. When toward the end she appears on a Tokyo stage, discreetly gyrating in tight jeans and an off-the-shoulder sweater, to fervently intone the theme from Johnny Guitar, she's nothing less than the muse of cinema. (The film plays as part of the week-long Earshot Jazz Film Festival, which also includes three short-run documentaries.)

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