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Originally published Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 3:11 PM

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‘La Maison de la Radio’: Behind the scenes at Radio France

A three-star review of the documentary “La Maison de la Radio,” which eavesdrops on the men and women who bring Radio France to life.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie Review 3 stars

‘La Maison de la Radio,’ a documentary directed by Nicolas Philibert. 99 minutes. In French with English subtitles. Not rated; for mature audiences. Varsity.

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“I want to talk about everything and nothing,” says an unidentified man in Nicolas Philibert’s documentary “La Maison de la Radio”; it seems as fine a definition as any for the subject of this film, Radio France. The Gallic equivalent, more or less, to NPR or the BBC, Radio France exists in a vast, round Paris building, where the hallways curve enticingly and talk goes on, nearly around the clock.

Made in the style of Frederick Wiseman’s documentaries (recently “La Danse,” “Boxing Gym,” “Crazy Horse”), “La Maison de la Radio” has a deceptively casual structure: no title cards, almost no one identified by name, no outside music, no interviews aimed at the camera. Instead, Philibert watches people at work, collecting little moments of gold: a producer, presumably, coaching a new newsreader (“it needs more bounce”); a sound technician meticulously setting up and then camouflaging equipment outdoors, in order to capture the sound of a forest at night; a glamorous opera singer, her voice filling a drab studio to overflowing; a tableful of staffers debating whether to mention, on a news show, Justin Bieber’s imminent arrival in town. Maybe best, they conclude, to just have on a psychologist to discuss the Bieber phenomenon. “A left-wing psychologist,” adds someone, to general laughter.

“La Maison de la Radio” gives us the pleasant experience of hanging out with people who truly love their work. A man sits in his crowded office, near-buried in CDs of classical music — which is, he says, “a network of happiness for the human spirit.” Countless listeners might feel the same way about Radio France; a comforting cacophony of talk and noise, about everything and nothing.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or

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