News from Home: The Films of Chantal Akerman

Posted in Retrospective, Theatrical by - November 10, 2019
News from Home: The Films of Chantal Akerman

I usually detest the idea of properly introducing oneself to an auteur with the exception of Chantal Akerman. I first saw No Home Movie when it first came out in theatres and I wasn’t ready for it. And sure, I probably won’t gel to how she presented her ideas in that particular film but the ideas are fascinating enough. Most of the film depicts her conversations with her mother Natalia which are both culturally specific and relate-able.

Once in a while, Natalia asks ask Chantal how to say specific ideas in French. And that’s a life long struggle for the Holocaust survivor living to Belgium. That’s a struggle that most Francophones are becoming more vocal about, that there are ideas that cannot be translated into French. And that’s something that French speaking countries have to grapple with. Especially now that they’re realizing that they’ve been melting pots for decades, if not longer.

TIFF’s retrospective News from Home: The Films of Chantal Akerman has been underway for more than a week now. And these films show her fascination with the ideas of melting pots and language. Belgium is either the literal setting for most of her films or a memory echoing when she’s away. The latter is true with the film where TIFF got the namesake of this retrospective. In News from Home, she shows iconic New York scenes while reading the letters that Natalia write for her. Natalia fills Chantal in on her home life, and through that the latter reminds us that New York, like many places, is a city of immigrants and travellers. Her decision to depict New York before and after its rush hours delineate the trajectories of these people gliding to and from the periphery of her camera.

We never get to know the people we share the subway or streets with. And the elusive aspect of the human nature is something Akerman is aware of even when she takes a different approach to her work. Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai De Commerce 1080 Bruxelles is different from her other films. This is a three hour narrative film about titular mother, baby sitter, and sex worker (Delphine Seyrig). The latter part is also difficult to grapple with especially with the way she treats both her clients and her son Sylvain (Jean Decorte). She takes their coats and acts like a waitress in front of men. We can chalk up her actions to tradition, as a way to fill one’s day. But Akerman’s focus on Jeanne makes her silence deafening, showing us a woman and a home that needs a necessary shake-up.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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