September 2016, arsenal cinema

No Home Movies – Films by Chantal Akerman

Even if NO HOME MOVIE had not become the legacy of the Belgian filmmaker and video artist Chantal Akerman, who died in 2015, this portrait of her elderly mother's last days would have provided a starting point for a review of her radical, experimental, rich and often autobiographical oeuvre, which comprises about 50 works and has left profound marks on the history of contemporary cinema. In all its forms and genres, Akerman's oeuvre is steeped in an existential "homelessness" because of the trauma of the Shoah; as the director herself put it, at its center stands her mother, Natalia (Nelly), a Polish Jew who was the only one of her family to survive Auschwitz and never talked about it. She can be seen in person in NO HOME MOVIE and TOUTE UNE NUIT, whereas in other films she appears offscreen as a disembodied voice, cited or in fictionalized form. In memory of the great avant-garde director Chantal Akerman, who saw herself as a nomad who did not belong anywhere, Arsenal is showing a diverse selection of her films which enter into dialogue with her last work NO HOME MOVIE.

NO HOME MOVIE (B/F 2015, 1.9., Introduction: Birgit Kohler) To begin with, for minutes, we see a tree in a desert landscape, perhaps in Israel, lashed by the wind but refusing to yield. The length of the shot is as unrelenting as the tree with its stamina. Aside from Skype conversations when Akerman is far away, the home movie camera never leaves her mother's Brussels flat. The daughter films her increasingly weak mother eating, sleeping and talking at the kitchen table. The subject matter varies from untied shoelaces, pickled cucumbers and family anecdotes - till the end the mother fends off all attempts to get her to talk about the camps. A great closeness and tenderness can be felt and an extreme bond between two inseparable beings. This is a moving film that is haunted by the imminent parting - and by a profound pain related to having "no home".

JEANNE DIELMAN, 23 QUAI DU COMMERCE, 1080 BRUXELLES (B/F 1975, 2.9.) Three days in the life of Jeanne Dielman (Delphine Seyrig), a widow who is bringing up her 16-year-old son. She is usually alone in the apartment, doing housework: clearing up, making beds, dusting, washing up, cooking. In the afternoon, she receives male visitors, earning a little extra through casual prostitution. This all takes place without words and with ritual rigor. The long takes of the daily routine, sometimes shot in real-time with a mainly stationary camera, seem like a choreography. When the precise mechanism of exactly the same procedures is upset, the fragile order collapses and the situation escalates. "The film is about killing time to escape psychological torment. Perhaps this film is a love letter to my mother." (C.A.) A milestone in film history.

NEWS FROM HOME (B/F/FRG 1976, 3.9.) A structuralist essay film that combines long, static takes of precisely framed images of 1970s New York (streetscapes, subway stations, house fronts) with a soundtrack comprised of urban noises and Akerman's voiceover. The camera keeps a distance and does not respond to what is going on in front of it. The noise from the streets can be heard, sometimes drowning out the voice of the director. Without emotion and in a monotone, Chantal Akerman reads 20 letters written by her mother in Brussels to her as a 20-year-old who had gone to New York to be a filmmaker - they are loving, caring but also exert a certain pressure. Throughout the film, there is a tension between the sound and the image, intimacy and distance, family and the world.

TOUTE UNE NUIT (A Whole Night, B/F 1982, 3.9.) A muggy summer night in Brussels - a night of passion, craziness, longing, sleeplessness, separations and reencounters, hopes and disappointments. A dance of miniatures, fragments of stories, couples and passers-by, a choreography of gestures of desire and rejection. Everything takes place in taxis and stations, bars, street corners and hotel rooms. This is a film where hardly a word is exchanged, only the sounds of the street can be heard, the nightly symphony of a big city. Among the many whose loneliness and longing for love is depicted by the film is Chantal Akerman's mother Natalia: She wears a yellow dress and smokes a cigarette while leaning against her house - she goes inside when her daughter's voice calls "Maman" offscreen.

AUJOURDHUI, DIS-MOI (F 1980, 4.9.) In this work made for the television series "Grand-mèresChantal Akerman visits three older Jewish women in Paris - all from Eastern Europe, all survivors of the concentration camps. Static takes capture their memories of their grandmothers and their lives before and after the Holocaust. The point of departure is absent: Chantal Akerman's grandmother Sidonie Ehrenberg was deported and murdered in Auschwitz in 1942. The autobiographical aspect is made even more explicit when Akerman asks her own mother about her memories of her mother at the outset of the film, and her mother's answer is later repeated offscreen.

HISTOIRES D'AMÉRIQUE FOOD, FAMILY AND PHILOSOPHY (F/B 1988, 4.9.) As if on a theater stage, people appear in front of the camera near New York's Williamsburg Bridge at night and tell a story. They have in common the experiences of the first generation of Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe, who went to the New World to escape pogroms and annihilation. They are the stories of survivors who no longer have a home, stories found in Yiddish newspapers, spoken by actors, dotted with Jewish jokes and staged like boulevard sketches. This is a diaspora film on the fringe between fiction and documentary, tragedy and comedy, that wants to keep collective memory alive against the parental generation's repressions. On the problems of passing on memories, Chantal Akerman says offscreen at the beginning of the film: "My own story is full of missing links, full of blanks, and I do not even have a child."

DEMAIN ON DÉMÉNAGE (Tomorrow We Move, F/B 2004, 5.9.) The clumsy Charlotte (Sylvie Testud), Akerman's alter ego, is struggling with her attempts to write an erotic novel. Her life is not made easier by the fact that after her father's death, her mother Catherine (Aurore Clément) decides to move in with her piano. As she prepares for her next move, a string of interested buyers is juxtaposed with the coming and going of piano students. A musical comedy with plenty of slapstick, which at the same time looks bluntly at the Holocaust. Catherine is a survivor and she loves to laugh. Beneath the cheerful, vaudeville-like surface of the film lurk horrors, pain, and a heavy burden, for both mother and daughter. Akerman integrates the real diary of her own maternal grandmother, who was murdered in Auschwitz, into a key scene.

LES RENDEZ-VOUS D'ANNA (The Meetings of Anna, F/B/FRG 1978, 6.9.) Train stations, trains, hotel rooms, corridors, windows, housing estates (filmed with a stationary camera) - Anna (Aurore Clément) is a Belgian filmmaker on her way from Essen to Paris via Brussels, to present her new film. Despite her encounters with people who talk to her - a German teacher who carries the burden of history on his shoulders, a friend of her mother's, an unknown man on the train - she remains profoundly alone. Their monologues become a collective complaint about the state of Europe. This is the sober (self-)portrait of a director and of a Europe that no longer exists. A meeting with her mother (Lea Massari) ends with the two of them in the same hotel bed and Anna telling her about falling in love with a woman. (bik)

NO HOME MOVIE will also be screened on 3.9. as part of the Dokfilmwoche at fsk-Kino.