Sweetheart of the Radio
Aug 29, 2013 | 708 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Everyone in France recognizes the building in central Paris, La Maison de la Radio, home to the eponymous film (and to Radio France), includes 60 studios, auditoriums, a concert hall and a thousand offices. It’s also the epicenter of France’s unrivalled aural culture. Nicolas Philibert, best known for his insightful, idiosyncratically constructed portraits of institutions (To Be and to Have (2002) won a Cesar for editing), spent six months wandering through the building with his camera and crew.

FILM WATCH: How did you get the idea for this film?

NICHOLAS PHILIBERT: It was something that I had had in mind for a long while. The idea of filming voices. A film about radio is a little unnatural—how can you film radio without shattering its mystery?—but that is probably the reason why I wanted to make it.

Did you know what you wanted to film?

No, absolutely not. I don’t make my films with a pre-existing desire to say something or to talk about a particular subject. When shooting begins, I usually think that the less I know, the better I feel! … I had no idea how the film would be constructed. That’s always the case. The journey unfolds through encounters, circumstances and occasional accidents. I need a starting point, a framework, a few rules, and from then on I improvise.

What difficulties did you encounter during filming?

The main challenges were related to my own appetite and desire to film, which I needed to contain. In my previous films, I’ve noticed more than once that it is more difficult not to shoot than to shoot. Especially these days, with digital cameras. There, in the midst of that hive of activity, that seemed truer than ever! And so I was torn between the desire to shoot more and more in order to feed the diversity essential to the project, while knowing that it was a bottomless pit. Hence the need to resist it and to continually refer back to the notion of writing. One final difficulty: how to avoid impeding the work of others and disturbing the sometimes delicate balance of a recording? Take Eclectik, Rebecca Manzoni’s program: I repeatedly filmed the end of it at that unusual moment when Rebecca, after an hour of conversation, goes out and leaves her guest alone in front of the microphone, asking him or her to improvise. Our presence could not distort or make this “minute of solitude” impossible, so we managed to film it without being physically present. That was the lesser evil. A little strange, too.

How did you choose which programs to film?

Every one of us has their own radio, their favorite shows, their pet hosts, their daily or weekly appointments with the airwaves. That also holds true for me, but it isn’t what determined the film’s backbone. I wanted diversity and heterogeneity, as I said, but it couldn’t become excessively varied or turn into a filmed catalogue without a guiding line. So how did I proceed? It’s hard to say because I had to take numerous factors into account: the very nature of the programs, their dramaturgy, their content on a specific day….

And I soon realized that a quality program did not necessarily provide a good sequence! And that the interest in filming such and such a program was not proportional to the importance of its content or subject. Worse! The content as such could prove to be a trap: the “stronger” it was, the more likely it was to undermine the film, insofar as it might overshadow what interested me in the first place, namely the grammar and mechanics of radio.

So I preferred seemingly more trivial but cinematic criteria: faces, looks, intonations, the fluidity or pitfalls of a word, the tone and the sensuality of a voice, the body that carries it, the accent of a guest, the gestures of a program host, the atmosphere of a studio…

In short, I often relied more on the presence of different people than on what they were saying. Finally, I had to try to keep a view of the whole and not film the programs for themselves but rather approach them as the raw material from which, in turn, I would build up a story. This is where the part of fiction inherent in writing any documentary comes into play.

Apart from the pre-title sequence, the news programming is not really developed...

And yet I was shooting in a particularly turbulent period, rich in events of a global scope: the Arab revolutions, the Fukushima disaster…These events are mentioned in the film, but I did not want to give them too much space. They weren’t the subject. Moreover, news is perishable. In order not to date the film and so retain a timeless dimension, we had to avoid sticking too closely to the facts.

There are a lot of characters and situations yet we move from one world to another with a great deal of fluidity. How did you approach editing?

For me, editing is like a musical score: One note summons another, which summons a third, and so on. There are full and empty moments, long and short ones, silences, associations of ideas, breaks in the rhythm...I have also played a great deal on what lies outside the frame: films must keep their secrets, and if we want to feed the audience’s imagination, we must leave some shady areas.

LA MAISON DE LA RADIO | France, 2013, 99m | Director: Nicolas Philibert
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