Akerman, Chantal: Tribute to a Major Filmmaker (Jeanne Dileman

When Chantal Akerman (June 6, 1950-October 5, 2015) died, at age 65, she had left behind a prolific and singular oeuvre.

A truly independent filmmaker, Akerman wrote or co-wrote all of her screenplays.

Her films, individually and jointly, have outlined an autobiography of sorts; they were imbued with direct observations and commentaries of her personal life and evolving voice as an artist.

She worked in a variety of formats, exploring both documentary, fiction and the personal essay form – in most than 60 works: 18 features, countless shorts and featurettes, and a dozen multiple-screen installations that were often variations of her single-channel films – always mixing high art with popular culture, minimalist rigor with physical exuberance. Through this multiplicity of formats, though, a unique tone, the specific quality of the gaze, an inimitable mastery of the mise en scène constituted a style that can be immediately spotted.

Akerman fell in love with cinema when she saw Godard’s Pierrot le fou as a teenager. At 18 she started to make films, with the irreverent Saute Ma Ville (1968).

At the young age of 25, with the making of her masterpiece, Jeanne Dielman (1975), she became a household name in the international art house arena.

She defined a new era of film experimentation (now bygone), which has influenced filmmakers as different as Hungarian Bela Tarr, and American indie directors Todd Haynes, Gus Van Sant, and Nina Menkes, among others.

Unlike those directors, though, she frequently appeared in her own films, meditating, writing, sleeping, stumbling into things, singing even – a “female Charlie Chaplin,” as she used to say.

Her presence reflected a new way of performing femininity, as well as queerness and the anguish felt by the children of Holocaust survivors.

It was an unclassifiable body willfully exploding the boundaries of sex, race, ethnicity, genre, language, and geography – or, at the border of the image, at the border between documentary and fiction (to allude to the title of one of her installations), as an inimitable voice, talking and singing, the thinly melodious voice of a child, later made husky by the smoke of a thousand cigarettes.

As such, through the audacity and formal rigor of her cinematic language, she struck a chord with generations of spectators. Her untimely death became an Internet event. Thousands of people, most of them very young, were clamoring how much her work had resonated through them, how much they were missing her.

The series of screening titled CHANTAL AKERMAN: CONTRE L’OUBLI/AGAINST OBLIVION gathers the representative of several venues across town (REDCAT, Los Angeles Filmforum, Cinefamily, Fahrenheit, Veggie Cloud, Human Resources) that are dedicated to render a proper homage to this major film director, by securing newly-created DCPs, restored prints (when available) and well-preserved digital files to exhibit Akerman’s images and sounds in their pristine beauty, and to present a survey of her work as exhaustive as possible considering the current state and availability of some films.

A companion exhibition, Chantal Akerman: Images Between the Images, is organized at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).

See www.bam.org/film/2016/chantal-akerman.

These programs are organized in collaboration with Paradise Films and Cinémathèque royale de Belgique.

They are presented with the support of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Institut Français and with the support of the Consulate General of the Kingdom of Belgium

Chantal Akerman was born in Brussels, capital of Belgium – whose gray winters, cloudy skies and hazy light were once captured by Flemish painting.

Her parents were Holocaust survivors from Poland. They did not care about cinema, and they cared even less about passing that painful part of Jewish history to their children. Yet this “nothing” they refused to talk about became the core of Akerman’s inspiration.

Many of her films are about a girl-a woman whose desires, passions, longings, and obsession with an unspoken past are too big to be contained in Brussels alone. Women run away, cut classes, hitch-hike, sleeplessly walk the streets at night, love two people at the same time, strive to marry the wrong person, stalk female ex-lovers, commit murders, travel throughout Europe, go to America, to Eastern Europe, to Asia, illegally cross borders – in situations that go from the banal to the surreal.

A seductive emotional violence bursts at the seams. Language often drifts, a love letter turns into an obsessive diary or a schmaltzy song, a simple note into a surrealist catalogue, a word of consolation into a list of possible catastrophes. The excess contained in Akerman’s signature frontal shots pours out in language, in pleasure.

In an interview conducted in 2011, film scholar Nicole Brenez pointed to Akerman that she always talked about herself as of a daughter-girl (it’s the same word in French), that the heroine of Almayer’s Folly was called Nina, i.e. little girl.

“I never grew up,” responded Akerman. “I have remained a girl, my mother’s daughter.”

No Home Movie, her last film, was dedicated to her mother, as was, forty years earlier, News from Home, reiterated this one last time.”