Dir.: Nicolas Philibert; Documentary; France 2013, 103 min.
LA MAISON DE LA RADIO is a large, circular building in Paris’ 16th district, overlooking the Seine and housing seven state radio networks, among them the popular “France Info” and “France Inter”. Their budget is close to half a billion GBP a year, and during the early part of 2011, director Nicolas Philibert has filmed between the hectic and sometimes funny activities in this landmark building designed by the architect Henry Bernard.
This ‘fly on the wall’ documentary takes in twenty four hours in the life of ‘Radio France’ and we get to meet the producers, presenters, journalists and guests. But firstly we get a lightening course in news reading: this is one of the most difficult aspects of broadcasting and a task never given to beginners; only hardened professionals have the skills to engage the attention of the viewing public: lose them for a minute, and you’ve lost them for the duration. Moving on to the newsroom, we discover them desperately trying to find a “funny closer” for said news: a Justin Bieber story is mentioned. Interviews with politicians such as Martin Aubrey and Francois Fillon are mentioned. The recent Tsunami is also still very much in the news and we get to watch the painstaking recoding of a radio play, with all the ramifications of finding the right background noises like “walking on gravel”. The producer is strict: “We take this step by step, like with children”.
Philibert’s entertaining documentary leaves the building to cover sporting events like football and the Tour de France. The newsroom delivers some macabre humour: there is a forth body found in Deule, which the editors seems to strangely find hilarious. The importance of potatoes is mentioned at length: “Potatoes have saved far more lives than penicillin”. One sound engineer even went so far as to make a programme about the growing of what the French call “the apple of the earth”. In an interview with a lonely woman, we discover that there are two ways of talking to yourself: in anger or confession. The writer Umberto Eco talks about subjectivity in writing, explaining that even if he were to write about someone killing his grandmother – which he is not planning – the writing would have autobiographical features. He then claims to be a sort of “Madame Bovary” although this is never fully explained. Interviews with revolutionaries in Tunis are followed by the shipping news. And finally we witness a sound engineer re-creating the anarchic sound machines of his childhood.
Philibert creates immediacy, the audience shares the intimacy of the creative work. Katell Dijan’s camera is our curious eye, capturing the highs and lows of a day at the radio station. Perhaps the most important ingredient here is the underlying humour making LA MAISON DE LA RADIO a vivid and humanistic experience. AS
NICOLAS PHILIBERT’S DOCUMENTARY IS ON GENERAL RELEASE FROM 23 JANUARY 2015 AND WILL HAVE A HOME ENTERTAINMENT RELEASE ON THE 23 March 2015