Akerman, Chantal: Prolific and Diverse Oeuvre

Saute ma Ville (1968)

Running time 13 min

A young woman cheerfully locks herself into her apartment-lets her cat out the window, seals the door and window with masking tape, washes the floor and walls with chemicals, eats spaghetti, dances in front of her mirror, turns up the gas on her stove-and turns her room into a pipe bomb.

At 18, Chantal Akerman has already found her lifelong fixation on defining the modern condition through its banal material circumstances, her gleeful absurdity belying a graveness beyond her years.

Hotel Monterey, 1972,

65 min.

Hotel Monterey is a residence hotel in New York on which Akerman and art house cinematographer Babette Mangolte situate their gaze. The result, less a film than an arcane out-of-body experience, transforms this run-down Manhattan hotel into a hypnotic netherworld. The lobby is clean with granite floors. Men wear hats. Paint peels. People enter and exit an elevator. Chantal has a preternatural knack for drawing the eye to what it rarely sees: the negative spaces between rooms and furniture, moments of routine frozen outside of time. By capturing everyday life through mirrors and inhuman angles, and magnifying obscure urban signposts into cryptic hieroglyphs, Chantal transforms the regular events of a single-room-occupancy hotel into dystopian science-fiction.

      

Golden Eighties, 1986, 35mm

96 min.

As opposed to the somber and quiet world of Jeanne DielmanGolden Eighties joyously wears its melodramatic heart on its sleeve, as it follows the ups and downs of three women vying for the same boy. Set in a candy-colored shopping mall, and written by an absurd dream team-Jean Gruault (Jules and Jim, Paris Belongs to Us), Leora Barish (Desperately Seeking Susan), Cahiers du Cinéma critic Pascal Bonitzer, Henry Bean (A Couch in New York), and Akerman herself- Golden Eighties is a celebration like none we’ve ever seen.

Bursting with catchy songs full of pithy wit and fire (written by Akerman & Marc Hérouet), and exacting performances from Delphine Seyrig & French pop icon Lio, Golden Eighties is Akerman’s loving (and slyly critical) tribute to Hollywood Musicals, and inarguable proof that flawless silliness belongs in the filmmaking lexicon.

 

Les Rendez-vous d’Anna (The Meetings of Anna), 1978, 35mm

Running time 120 min.

In a series of ethereal urban tableaux, a young filmmaker named Anna glides by strangers, lovers, and friends with commensurate aloofness as she travels with her new film through Western Europe. Like Akerman, Anna seems to belong nowhere, equally out of place at home and abroad, amongst domestic women of past generations, and with the ambivalent, disaffected men of the new one. Her meetings reveal a diaspora of Europeans still coming to uneasy terms with the war and the modern era, as well as layers of her own peculiar estrangement – from her sexuality, her heritage, and her modernity as a woman. Anna feels like the personification of Akerman’s camera: elegant, sort of alien, and obsessed with basic quotidian detail (when asked “how was Germany,” Anna answers: “There were curtains on all the windows, tulips on every table, and it was full of Germans”). Anna’s ghostly, geometric worldview is so distinct and persuasive that it is likely to follow you out of the theater.

 

Histoires d’Amérique (American Stories/Food, Family and Philosophy) 1989,

92 min.

Flipping the final image from News From Home (a slowly-shrinking Manhattan), Histoires d’Amérique instead approaches Manhattan, and with it a subject that informs every film Akerman touched: her Jewish identity. A group of first and second generation Eastern European Jewish immigrants-some professional actors, many non-actors, and a slew of comedians-tell a fragmented cornucopia of stories, along with sketches and jokes (and no shortage of deafening silences), in an informal history of Jewish culture of the last hundred years. Akerman’s camera stalks New York, compiling an expressive history not merely with her subjects, but also the city’s exteriors.

A film that deals with the phantom of language, memory, oblivion, the vacuousness of words, American Stories is haunted by the void…Yet void itself has a history – that of the silence of the Holocaust survivors who, to spare their children, have only left them with a Jewish name emptied of its content – a name that burns a hole in the fabric of reality.” – Cahiers du cinéma.

 

Un Jour Pina a demandé (One Day Pina Asked… On Tour with Pina Bausch), 1983

57 min.

An encounter between two of the most remarkable female artists of the 20th century, One Day Pina Asked… is a look by Chantal Akerman at the work of choreographer Pina Bausch and her Wuppertal, Germany-based dance company. “This film is more than a documentary on Pina Bausch,” a narrator announces at the outset, “it is a journey through her world, through her unwavering quest for love.” Capturing the company’s striking dances and elaborate stagings over a five-week European tour, Akerman uses “lengthy takes and exacting compositions (two of her stylistic signatures), encouraging us to reflect on how the dancers’ bodies give form to Bausch’s ideas” (Chicago Reader). The company members describe the development of various dances, and the way that Bausch calls upon them to supply autobiographical details as performances are developed. Akerman also shows us excerpts from performances of Bausch dances, including “Komm Tanz Mit Mir” (Come Dance with Me) (1977), “Nelken” (Carnations) (1982), “Walzer” (1982), and “1980” (1980), all recorded with Akerman’s singular visual touch.

D’Est (From The East), 1993, 16mm (Presented with support from the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and Institut Français), 107 min. 

Traveling and documenting “everything that touched her,” from East Germany to Russia, immediately after the fall of the Soviet Bloc, Chantal Akerman paints a portrait of city streets, changing seasons, and the muffled footsteps of people traversing a landscape “no longer monolithically impersonal” (Francette Pacteau)-a landscape taking its first melancholic breaths as it emerges from the rubble. Akerman keeps people nameless and music minimal, allowing spaces to come alive of their own accord, patiently and hauntingly forming a true cinematic dirge for the people, places, and stories of Eastern Europe.

“Taking her relentless cameras from East Germany to Russia, Akerman delivers an impressionistic report from the new front. Displaying her distinctive visual style, influenced by structuralism and minimalism, her journal unfolds as a procession of postcards …Akerman captures the essence, if not the historical particulars, of a region on the move.” – Emanuel Levy, Variety

Je tu il elle, 1974

Running time: 86 min.

Following Akerman’s wildly formative New York years (where she was drawn to Anthology Film Archives and the films of Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer, and Jonas Mekas) she returned to Belgium and crafted two of her greatest works: Jeanne Dielman & Je tu il elle. Freed from the confines of narrative filmmaking, Je tu il elle sees Akerman beginning to explore the themes that would come to fruition in Jeanne Dielman.

“Akerman’s first completed feature is a haunting film-poem about the violence of desire. The filmmaker plays a young woman (I) consumed by depression and unrequited, obsessive feelings for an absent lover (you). She eventually leaves her cramped living space to embark on a strange journey in the heart of the Belgian winter. She meets half-way the sexual fantasies of a seductive trucker (he) before imposing herself on the woman (she) who no longer wants her. Akerman uses her own body as an opaque, alluring signifier for the breakdown of sexual identity. The splendid transgression enacted Je tu il elle was to become a cinematic landmark.”  UCLA Film & Television Archive