Tag: chantal akerman

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A stylized shot from Chantal Akerman's "News From Home", depicting a 1970s New York City skyline and red buses, as reviewed by Jessica Schneider for the AUTOMACHINATION literary magazine.

Metal, Stone, & Zip Codes: On Chantal Akerman’s “News From Home” (1976)

Oscar Wilde once said something like, ‘Criticism is the highest form of autobiography.’ Or rather, what he actually said was, ‘the highest as the lowest form of criticism is a mode of autobiography. Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault.’ The rest can be attributed to my misremembering.

Admittedly, I do believe that criticism is the highest form of autobiography, as in, what one thinks is good or bad in the arts can say more about how that person thinks than is realized. As example, if romance novels and spy thrillers drive you, then you’re likely not going to be very interested in James Joyce. Furthermore, if you think the ending of Saving Private Ryan with old Matt Damon asking his wife to ‘tell me I’m a good man,’ before the film ends with the American flag is deep filmmaking, then you’re probably not going to enjoy Andrei Tarkovsky.

This brings me to Chantal Akerman whose films, in my mind at least, resemble the poetry of Adrienne Rich in their lackluster quality and pretension. Coincidentally, those who praise Akerman are likely to praise Rich because both are academic darlings who engage in joyless, meandering art that involves ideas better expressed by others. I have seen three of Akerman’s films, the first being Je tu il elle, Les Rendez-vous d’Anna, and News From Home. Of the three films, I enjoyed News From Home the most, largely due to my not remembering the first two.

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A shot of Julie in Chantal Akerman's "Je tu il elle", depicting her head resting against a window as she looks meditatively at the viewer.

Leaving, Waiting, (Not) Doing: on Chantal Akerman’s “Je tu il elle” (1974)

The woman occupies an emptiness—spare furnishings, glass doors, a dingy bathroom—and it occupies her. There has been a separation, and an exile, likely self-imposed (“And then I left”). She arranges and re-arranges the furniture, lies in silence, disrobes and walks around naked. She writes letters to someone and, copying and re-copying, obsesses over their details. In her nakedness, she flirts with exhibitionism when a faceless man skirts the windows of her room. And she devours spoonfuls of sugar out of a bag, staring out the window, or at nothing, until the sugar is a pile on the floor.

There is activity, agency, even, but of a stifled and confused sort. More than once, the behavior shown onscreen contradicts the narration of her voice-over. They are small deceptions, but clear ones, and a nice touch of Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman’s to show the fickleness, the inner dissatisfaction, of the character.

I am largely unfamiliar with Akerman’s filmography, and Je tu il elle is my first of hers. I, of course, knew the name, even before the minor controversy surrounding Sound & Sight’s catapulting of her Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975) to the No. 1 spot on their Greatest Films list. I’ve never seen that particular film myself, but critics I trust deem it a tedious mediocrity, so I came to Je tu il elle with my analytic hackles up, somewhat. […]