Chantal Akerman may be gone, but she’s certainly not forgotten. One of the most formative filmmakers of the 20th century (and beyond), her static images revealed things that had previously eluded the camera, and her fearlessly exploratory work gifted audiences with a singularly female lens through which to see the world. The global film community will be celebrating Akerman for generations to come, but one of the first major tributes is currently unfolding across several of New York’s cinematic institutions. Timed to the first-run release of her final project, the elegiac “No Home Movie,” you’d be hard-pressed to find a more appropriate venue for such a celebration of her art — Akerman may have been a lifelong vagabond, but the city alternately served as both her muse and her second home.
The festivities kicked off at Film Forum, where moviegoers were treated to week-long runs of Marianne Lambert’s documentary “I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman,” and Akerman’s magnum opus, “Jienne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.” But the retrospective begins in earnest tomorrow at BAM, where more than 20 of the late auteur’s films will screen as part of a month-long retrospective called “Chantal Akerman: Images Between the Images.” The slate is essential viewing from top to bottom, but we’ve highlighted five titles that we’re particularly excited to revisit on the big screen.
Check out the full lineup at BAM.
“A Couch in New York” (19996)
Chantal Akerman isn’t exactly synonymous with romantic comedies, but she the avant-garde luminary did her best Nora Ephron impression for this anomalous studio gig about an uptight New Yorker (William Hurt) who swaps apartments with a Parisian dancer (Juliette Binoche, natch), only to learn that everyone in his building — including his dog — prefers to have her around. Complete with tittering sex jokes and silly sight gags, “A Couch in New York” finds Akerman exploring the lighter side of her own vagabond past.
“Hotel Monterey” (1972)
Akerman relocated from Brussels to Manhattan in 1971, and the budding 21-year-old filmmaker didn’t waste any time. Influenced by the structuralist artists whom she met and discovered at Anthology Film Archives, Akerman (in collaboration with cinematographer Babette Mangolte) immediately plunged her camera into places where many native New Yorkers wouldn’t dare to look for themselves. A silent 16mm study of a seedy Upper West Side flophouse, this unblinking portrait of a strange micro-community sees isolation in shared spaces and beauty in the dankest corners of city life.
“Je Tu Il Elle” (1976)
Translated as “I You He She,” this stark and startling early narrative feature pulses with a confessional rawness. Akerman — vulnerable and exposed as always — plays Julie, a lonely young woman who holes herself up in a room and flounders about in black-and-white while narrating the details of her unhappiness. Eventually mustering the courage to reenter the outside world, Julie sets off on an aimless journey that builds to a sexual encounter with another woman. Shot in real-time and bonding viewers to Akerman’s subjective gaze, the language of this climactic sequence has since been translated to everything from “Blue Is the Warmest Color” to Alex Ross Perry’s “The Color Wheel.”
“The Meetings of Anna” (1978)
Akerman was haunted by loneliness for the length of her abbreviated life, and the power of her films is often predicated upon her rare gift for capturing images of that invisible terror. In that light, there may not seem to be anything unique about this Antonioni-esque drama about a director (Aurore Clément) who loses herself in a series of casual encounters during the European press tour for her latest movie. But no other Akerman film so lucidly marries her twin preoccupations with isolation and sameness, her heroine’s acute sense of dislocation compounded by her journey across a continent where distinct national histories are beginning to blur into a homogenous mass
“News From Home” (1976)
Objective in its vision and yet profoundly intimate in its feeling, Akerman’s masterful follow-up to “Jeanne Dielman” is entirely composed of long-take shots of 1970s New York, over which the filmmaker has layered the sound of her reading letters that her mother has written to her from Belgium. Endowed with new power in the wake of “No Home Movie,” for which “News from Home” serves as a heartbreaking prequel, the film traces the disconnect between time and space; the uneasy relationship between the shadow of memory and the present moment over which it hangs.