Akerman, Chantal: Pioneering Experimental Feminist Directors Dies at 65

Pioneering Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, known for her experimental films that closely examined women’s lives, has died in Paris. She was 65.

The date and cause are not yet known, according to the New York Times, though the French press ruled it as a suicide.

Her parents were Polish Holocaust survivors, and her latest film, “No Home Movie,” is based on conversations between the filmmaker and her late mother. The film screened at Locarno and will show at the New York Film Fest.

Akerman was born in Brussels and was inspired to make films after seeing Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le Fou when she was a teenager.

She made her most well-known work in 1975 when she was just 25: The three-hour long “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” follows a housewife in real time and builds to a dramatic ending. It has been called one of the first and greatest feminist films.

Akerman’s work influenced many American directors, including Todd Haynes, Sally Potter and Michael Haneke. She took a more commercial approach in 1996’s “A Couch in New York,” which starred Juliette Binoche and William Hurt.

The Toronto Film Fest described her influence in a statement: “Daring, original, uncompromising and in all ways radical, Akerman revolutionized the history of cinema not only with her masterpiece ‘Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,’ but also with the sustained urgency of her brilliance. With acknowledged influences from Michael Snow and Godard, Akerman created new formal languages and consistently expanded cinema’s reach with her restless curiosity and willingness to wade into taboo subjects.”

She made her first film, “Saute Ma Ville” (“Blow Up My City”), at the age of 18. In the black-and-white short, she destroys her kitchen, then blows it up with gas.

In her films, she has often repeated themes of alienation with echoes of the trauma of the Holocaust.

Among her other films were Joseph Conrad adaptation “Almayer’s Folly,” Marcel Proust adaptation “The Captive,” “News From Home,” and “A Whole Night.”