La Maison de la Radio

Maison de la Radio

This documentary by Nicolas Philibert purports to be a single day in the life of French national public radio broadcaster Radio France, starting with breakfast news and ending with the follow day starting anew. It is apparently stitched together from six months of footage.

Broadly the equivalent of the BBC, Radio France consists of several stations. France Inter, France Info, France Culture, France Musique, and France Bleu all broadcast from the French version of the BBC radio horseshoe which is Broadcasting House. Radio France is a true concrete doughnut in Paris; a giant circular building within sight of the Eiffel Tower. The documentary takes all those stations in, featuring news gathering, meetings, interviews, sports, gameshows, music and drama.

It is sporadically fascinating. Unfortunately that’s the trouble; it’s only sporadic.

We see abstract musicians recording weird noises, interview subjects recorded as they peel and talk about potatoes, a dramatic work being made take after relentless take, music being recorded, music being rehearsed, game shows being recorded, a request show, interviews with novelists set to music, journalists laughing about murder victims’ bodies being cut up. It is, well, odd.

The most interesting things in the movie are the many characters who have been working for the stations their entire lives. One of them in particular, a music presenter in an office completely surrounded and apparently trapped by walls of CDs, is unique in the film as he is allowed to talk directly to the camera – elsewhere the people working behind the scenes beaver away with varying degrees of self-consciousness trying not to notice they are being watched.

The film is resolutely broad in its subject matter, as of course it would have been if it was made about the BBC. And that’s the problem. In attempting to be an all-encompassing- day-in-the-life it is completely unfocussed. It’s unfair to say it is chosen and organised in nothing but time order, because clearly this material has been carefully selected from an enormous amount of footage. It just seems utterly directionless.

Without any context that lack of structure is strongly underlined; the film becomes a loose connection of scraps – the narrative eye is conspicuous by its absence.

It is entertaining in parts, but fitfully and frustratingly uneven. Without a narrator, or clear outside voice, time does quickly begin to drag. The snippets appear to have been thrown at the screen challenging you to find them all equally enthralling. And they really aren’t.

Also, there is something which will strike you as disconcerting – all the faces on show are middle class and white. As the headquarters of the National broadcaster, it’s something you’d think a documentary maker would at least comment on.

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