Tuesday, September 10, 2013

La Maison de la radio

Office of Radio France
Everyone knows that radio is transcendent and that of the other electronic media television and movies aren’t even a close second. And one of the great radio institutions of all time is Radio France. Nicolas Philibert’s La Maison de la radio, currently playing at Film Forum, is an inside look at what goes on inside the auspicious circular structure (designed by  the architect Henri Bernard) where Radio France--roughly the counterpart of our NPR and England’s BBC--is produced. The documentary wisely employs Fred Wiseman’s documentary style which to say that it lets the institution speak for itself. There are no voice overs or commentary to cloud the terrain since the movie is a walking voice over in which the charm of French language and syntax is a key part of the script. “Quand meme,” “ecoute,” “ca me rappelle quelqu’un,” “d’accord,” "ca ne vous derange pas” are just a few of the common Frenchisms that are the lingua franca of the broadcasts. When you see them used in the context of the programming they’re virtually untranslatable since they're like breathing. There are all kinds of eccentricities that make French Radio so French. In the movie an interview subject is a storm chaser by avocation. He earns his money as a doctor but won’t reveal his specialty due to the narrowness of the field. Pierre Bastien, a composer who makes mechanized instruments, performs one of his pieces while another studio features a room filled with xylophones and in yet another a hand held mallet hitting a chime marks the time on a quiz show. A sardonic woman editor wants to know if the fourth body found in the Deule was discovered in bits and pieces or as a whole. Another Radio France executive teaches an announcer how to read his script while the director of a play is trying to show one of her actors how to speak French with an American accent. Umberto Eco makes an appearance, along with a motorcycle team who follow the Tour de France. There is only one thing missing and that’s “le mystere.” Seeing La Maison de la radio is a little like going to the Fitzergerald Theater in Saint Paul to watch Garrison Keillor perform. The images and the poetry of radio come from the imaginative space it provides. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of Radio France where "le mot juste" is treated with almost the same care that the French give to their cuisine. In this regard, the director's behind the scenes look can be a little like Toto pulling the curtain on the Wizard of Oz. 

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