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Remembering Chantal Akerman


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We’re saddened to learn that pioneering filmmaker Chantal Akerman has passed away at age 65. Here’s her obit in partial from the New Yorker.

The Belgian-born, Paris-based director Chantal Akerman died on October 5th, at the age of sixty-five. According to Isabelle Regnier, of Le Monde, she committed suicide. Neither Akerman’s name nor her work is as widely known as it should be. It is no overstatement to say that she made one of the most original and audacious films in the history of cinema, “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.” It premièred at the Cannes Film Festival, in May, 1975, the month before her twenty-fifth birthday.

Akerman was younger than Orson Welles was when he made “Citizen Kane,” younger than Jean-Luc Godard was when he made “Breathless.” The three films deserve to be mentioned together. “Jeanne Dielman” is as influential and as important for generations of young filmmakers as Welles’s and Godard’s first films have been. Akerman presented monumentally composed, meticulously observed, raptly protracted images of a woman’s domestic routine—Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig) preparing cutlets in her kitchen, for instance. These images prove cinematically that the domestic lives of women are the stuff of art; that women’s private lives are as ravaged by the forces of history as are lives lived on the public stage of politics; and that the pressures of women’s unquestioned, unchallenged, and unrelieved confinement in the domestic realm and in family roles is a societal folly that leads to ruin, a form of violence that begets violence.

“Jeanne Dielman” is an intimate film of majestic choreography. It distills a cinephilic passion—for classic Hollywood melodramas, Godard’s long takes, Jacques Tati’s pointillistic comedy, and Jacques Rivette’s and Andy Warhol’s experiments in duration—into an utterly personal and distinctive form. It takes on the subjects and the clichés of melodrama, such as prostitution and murder—those, in particular, of so-called women’s movies—and extrudes them with a profoundly modern psychological resonance, as well as a political fury.

“Jeanne Dielman” is also a Holocaust film, with a protagonist torn by her memories, as were Akerman’s own parents, who were Holocaust survivors. Akerman’s last film, “No Home Movie,” screening at the New York Film Festival tomorrow and Thursday, is a film of her mother, Natalia, in her Brussels apartment, and among the subjects that they discuss are the events leading to her deportation to Auschwitz and the attempt to return to ordinary life in Belgium after the war.

Here’s Akerman speaking about her life in Venice in 2011:

Also, a more detailed account of her groundbreaking films via New York Times here.
Philip Lopate on Chantal Akerman via Indiewire.

*Image of “Jean Dielman” courtesy n+1