La Maison de la Radio is the kind of film that divides its audience into two camps: those happy to observe and those impatient to be told a story. The former will find this briskly paced but narrative-free documentary, which chronicles a day at France’s NPR, a charming diversion; the latter, an easygoing bore. Director Nicolas Philibert’s approach is shruggingly immersive; the film lands us inside Radio France without a clue about its programming, philosophy, or objectives. We aren’t even privy to his twenty-some subjects’ names, jobs, or which programs they work on. Philibert’s rigid focus on the present renders such background information superfluous; all that matters is the intensity of a xylophone trio’s performance, the breathlessness of a race reported live from a motorcycle backseat, and the ungainly dance between an eager correspondent and a hesitant interviewee. Sans context, then, the effect is not unlike peering into different rooms at Radio France studios for a few minutes at a time, discovering, alternately, a producer arranging an interview, a newsroom debating whether Justin Bieber is worth covering, and a news editor reading aloud that “the man found cut in two was killed by a bullet in the back” and dissolving into riotous giggles. Unsurprisingly, it’s not the workaday employees but the station’s many guest musicians, born entertainers all, who best exploit the rare presence of a camera at the radio studio with personality and showmanship—the qualities Philibert attempts to disavow with his cinéma vérité style, but can’t help recording.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 4, 2013