(Pedro Costa; Portugal/ France; 2009)
A fascinating document of a singer ceaselessly pursuing perfection of sound, whether its in the recording studio, in concert, or in vocal coaching. Pedro Costa is a consummate visualist, and has translated this talent into stark black and white, creating an interior environment that seems to be ceaselessly nocturnal, as if the subject of the film, Jeanne Balibar, and her musicians are forever locked in the embrace of creation. The film is at its most transfixing when Costa shows Balibar in close-up, and her physiognomy becomes a landscape of tiny, barely-perceptible moods and emotion. The repeated and protracted takes of a song never wear thin – on the contrary, Balibar's often frustrated search to find the rhythm, the cadence, the heart of the song is utterly compelling, as if the art of song has unpeeled for us to see. Costa's films are sublime, but I admit to having doubts about this one, unsure as to whether I would find the singer's music interesting and whether this might obstruct the film. However, all doubts are completely cast aside, and Costa remains one of the most arresting film-makers on the planet.