La Maison de la Radio documentaire

By virtue of its subject—the headquarters of Radio France in Paris—Nicolas Philibert’s giddily varied documentary becomes, incidentally, a cinematic curiosity. As we watch hosts and announcers talk away on the air, the movie begins to feel like a series of communications between the speakers—and unseen millions.

The full panoply of Radio France programming, like some department store or zoo of sound, is on display: news (Japanese earthquakes and Tunisian upheaval), human interest oddities, interviews with novelists, a conscientious call-in request show, classical showcases, avant-scat freakouts, quiz shows, and, of course, mellifluous weather bulletins. Documenting live broadcasts, on-site reporting, sound editing, and editorial meetings, it’s a behind-the-scenes tour, as were Philibert’s explorations of museums in Animals and More Animals (96) and Louvre City (90), although the emphasis on listening also recalls the sensory spotlight of In the Land of the Deaf (92).

Wiseman is of course the godfather of this kind of institutional study, and while Philibert is unable to achieve a comparable depth in 99 minutes, he shares a similar interest in depicting work and identifying the inherent democratic cultural value in the diversity of experience. But it’s also a pretext for a study of reaction shots (as in the looping sessions sequence) and a pure celebration of sound—chatter, music, nonsense, and all other forms of man-made noise.