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A. S. Hamrah: "For Chantal Akerman"


In the wake of the great Chantal Akerman’s premature passing, A. S. Hamrah of n+1 offers some thoughts on her place in twentieth-century avant-garde cinema, along with a touching personal reflection on an evening spent with the filmmaker. An excerpt:

Akerman defied marginalization but not by trying to make arthouse masterpieces in a recognizable way. In that respect, the times have caught up with her way of doing things. But since she’s not here anymore, it doesn’t matter whether the times caught up with her or not. Her last act was to defy a new, post-cinema world of total cinema marginalization by permanently opting out of it. If it makes you sad and anxious, as it does me, that she abandoned her life and her work, perhaps it’s because, as with Fassbinder, Truffaut, Tarkovsky, and Cassavetes in the 1980s, she left us when we needed her most…

In Jonathan Crary’s book 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, Crary, without mentioning or probably even knowing about her hypersomnia, describes her 1993 film From the East as one poised between two worlds, one that is ending and one that more and more we all have to live in whether we want to or not. This landscape-with-people film tracks groups waiting in long queues in the former Eastern bloc after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Crary writes that the film, in its “extended portrayal of certain textures of everyday life,” cinematically preserved a world of collective public spaces and sheltered domesticity where actual encounters can occur, a world disappearing into an all-encompassing, inescapable system dedicated to destroying time and community. The “suspended, unproductive time” (in Crary’s phrase) of ordinary people was Chantal’s subject. She has ended up a Simone Weil of the cinema, as her film je, tu, il, elle seems in retrospect to predict she would, an artist hyperaware and sensitive to the world around her, one she apparently couldn’t take anymore.

Image of Chantal Ackerman via Art News.