Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman, best known for her impeccable 1975 character study, “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” has died. The French newspaper Le Monde reported that Akerman took her own life; her sister confirmed that the director had been recently hospitalized for depression in the wake of her mother’s death. She was 65.
Both the New York Times and The Guardian have published obituaries for Akerman, the Brussels-born daughter of Polish Holocaust survivors and one of Europe’s leading experimental and feminist directors. In a career spanning nearly 50 years—she made her first 16mm short, “Blow Up My Town,” in 1968 (video below); her final film, “No Home Movie,” received positive notices at this year’s Locarno International Film Festival—Akerman won the fervent admiration of critics and cinephiles worldwide for her bold uses of narrative and film form, in fiction and nonfiction alike.
Since the news of Akerman’s death broke this morning, tributes to the filmmaker and her work have begun to pour in. Criticwire’s Sam Adams has penned a heartfelt consideration of Akerman, whose loss he describes as “monumental,” and has begun compiling appreciations from around the web; Keyframe’s David Hudson has a richly informative post on the filmmaker, featuring assessments from critics Janet Bergstrom and Dave McDougall, among others. On Facebook, screenwriter and one-time Akerman collaborator Howard A. Rodman describes her in a post as “complex, driven, generous, impish, demanding, brilliant… [H]er films are among the most poised, beautiful, disturbing works of our time.”
Though her legacy is inextricably linked to “Jeanne Dielman,” perhaps one of the three or four most important feminist texts ever produced in the medium, it was Akerman’s versatility that seems most impressive in retrospect. Who but a chameleonic, endlessly curious artist would be cited as an influence by the likes of Todd Haynes, Sally Potter, Michael Haneke, Gus Van Sant, and Tsai Ming-liang? Who but an eclectic, flexible auteur could direct a loose trilogy of documentaries in the 1990s and early 2000s (“From the East,” “South,” “From the Other Side”), only to pause in mid-stream to adapt Proust (“The Captive”)?
In 2012, the Museum of Modern Art, Antwerp held a major retrospective of Akerman’s work, “Chantal Akerman: Too Far, Too Close,” and the video below, posted by the museum at the time, offers a useful introduction if you’re unfamiliar.
She will be sorely missed.