Ne Change Rien (2009) (Change Nothing)
Pedro Costa’s latest film Change Nothing (2009), at a visceral level, rekindles the experience of watching that stunning cinephile bait of his, O Sangue (1989). Like his debut work, Change Nothing is presented in monochrome (although apparently not shot that way) with a contrast ratio to kill for, in which the white appears whiter and black appears blacker. Consequently, Costa, who shot the film himself in DV, achieves a flat field which results in a number of eye-teasing compositions, such as the one in which actress and singer Jeanne Balibar – the subject and star of the film – seems to have grown a pair of angel wings. More than ever, Costa works with light like a painter who’s been given only a limited quantity of colour would, meticulously sculpting Balibar’s distinct visage out of darkness. This exacting precision required for an artistic endeavour is what Change Nothing is ostensibly ‘about’, as it goes about recording Balibar and co. rehearsing, improvising, recording and live-performing a variety of vocal pieces. (There are also a couple of off-track sequences involving a live choir and a pair of Japanese in a bar). The reference here is, of course, Godard’s Sympathy for the Devil (1968), which interpreted radical politics and art-creation as essentially incomplete ventures requiring audience participation. Costa’s film, however, seems more modest and self-sufficient, as it single-mindedly records Balibar’s relentless dedication to her work (and, implicitly, the director’s towards his as well). It undermines the illusion of a work of art being a smooth, finished product by situating it at the end of a long history of imperfections, goofs and possibilities. Ironically, Costa’s rigorous and ‘perfected’ film perpetuates this very illusion. In a way, then, the 100 minutes that we see is only a minor part of Costa’s project, the majority (the remaining 78 hours!) of which will, unfortunately, go unseen.