No Way Home: Chantal Akerman’s New Personal Docu

Chantal Akerman, the great Belgian director, discusses No Way Home, her painfully intimate documentary about her aging and dying mother, an Auschwitz survivor.

The inner turmoil of Chantal Akerman’s new documentary, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival, is clear from its paradoxical title.  Called No Home Movie, it consists almost entirely of footage of the director’s elderly mother in her home in Brussels.

In this strict confinement, No Home Movie is shot digitally in a far more loose and imprecise technique than Akerman’s film-films, but is still composed around the director’s characteristic structural motifs of closed and open doors, windows, and other constricting frames within frames.

With few external excursions (footage of the Israeli desert, and of Chantal traveling in anonymous hotel rooms, Skyping her mother), No Home Movie is a taut observation of the emptying stillness of a home inhabited by a woman getting older and sicker.

“Your camera, every time,” her mother affectionately nags, when Akerman calls her only to reveal not her face in the Skype frame but her face covered by a giant digital camera, recording her mother’s blurred image, at once distant and close.

“I want to show how small the world is,” the director replies, her mother not understanding. The mother’s flat feels temporary, a large, impersonal space filled with personal decor.

Akerman’s camera records its rooms and doors, her conversations with her mother about her past, and of her mother’s movement around the space, feels transient, temporarily inhabited, a holding place before a transition to somewhere else.

Her mother’s time in Auschwitz is mentioned, as is Chantal’s rejected Orthodox Jewish upbringing and her family’s flight from Poland to Belgium.

The images center on the absences in the vacated images, in the tottering mother’s isolation, in the sense that Akerman herself is not fully connected to this woman, her history and her home.

A very intimate and raw essay, this is, in a way, the sequel or epilogue to News from Home, which was a correspondence between Akerman’s images of New York and her mother’s letters to her daughter abroad.

In No Home Movie, the director returns home to again communicate with her mother, but the images are no longer for her, but rather feel a release of this home to the audience.