Chantal Akerman, a key figure in contemporary cinema, passes away
by Aurore Engelen
- The director, who had championed experimental film since the 1970s and the release of Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, passed away on 5 October
Belgian director Chantal Akerman, a major figure in world arthouse cinema, passed away on Monday evening. Her feature Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, which she made after graduating from Belgium’s Institut Supérieur des Arts, was an aesthetic shock that travelled the entire world. In this film, she meticulously sketched out the day-to-day life of a woman, the alienating repetition of her household chores, but also the confinement of her situation, in reference to her mother, who lived through the concentration camps. This movie continues to serve as an inspiration for her peers. It may have been branded as an experimental title at the time, but it is now considered as an international benchmark for creative cinema. Incidentally, the British Film Institute has included it in its list of the 50 best movies of all time.
Chantal Akerman made over 40 films and had a finger in every pie throughout her career. Often working with an experimental style, she alternated fictions and documentaries (including the trilogy of documentaries From the East (1993), South (1999) and From the Other Side (2002)), inventing her own cinematic language. She blurred narrative and genre boundaries, and also stood out as a visual artist, exhibiting her works at such prestigious events as the Venice Film Festival.
In 1968, she directed her first short film, which was entirely self-made (Saute ma ville). When she was 21, she left to start living in New York, and subsequently travelled constantly between the continents, splitting her time between Brussels, Paris and the United States. This somewhat nomadic filmmaker shot movies in Poland, Mexico, Malaysia and Israel. She explored different places and styles, adapting Proust (The Captive) and Conrad (Almayer’s Folly [+see also:
film profile]), and also trying her hand at musicals, filming her mother, and regaling the viewer with private diaries and letters. Her last film, No Home Movie [+see also:
film profile], was dedicated to her mother, a core figure in her filmography, serving as a kind of common thread in a highly personal style of cinema. In I Don’t Belong Anywhere – le cinéma de Chantal Akerman, the documentary that Marianne Lambert recently dedicated to her, she takes a look at the importance of her mother and the way in which she crops up in all of her films, either implicitly or explicitly. In this documentary, Gus Van Sant describes the aesthetic shock he felt when he watched Jeanne Dielman, the way in which her almost architectural approach to the characters inspired him – and still does to this day, particularly in his film Last Days, thus attesting to her huge influence on contemporary cinema.
(Translated from French)