Chantal Akerman Remembered at Emotional NYFF Premiere of Final Film ‘No Home Movie’
Chantal Akerman Remembered at Emotional NYFF Premiere of Final Film 'No Home Movie'
The film world was shocked by devastating news on Tuesday when it was reported that the widely acclaimed and pioneering Belgian filmmaker Chantal Akerman had died at the age of 65. Last night, the U.S. premiere of Akerman’s latest, and ultimately, final film, “No Home Movie,” continued as scheduled at the 53rd New York Film Festival, but news of the filmmaker’s death cast a long shadow over the night’s event.
“No Home Movie” is an intimate documentary that paints a portrait of Akerman’s mother, a Holocaust survivor living in Belgium, over the last years of her life. A visibly shaken Kent Jones, the Director of Programming of the New York Film Festival, introduced the screening alongside Film Comment critic Amy Taubin. Both of them spoke to Akerman’s monumental career as a challenging and deeply personal filmmaker.
Jones, who penned a touching tribute to Akerman yesterday, began by noting that until recently the director had planned on attending the New York Film Festival. Jones went on to dispel rumors that Akerman’s death and recent bout of depression could be traced to the film’s mixed reception at the Locarno Film Festival, where it made its world premiere in August. “Contrary to stories about Locarno, actually I think that was really a good experience for her. And as difficult as this film was for her to make, she’s also immensely proud of it, happy with it, so she wanted to come here to represent it.” Jones continued by praising the work, adding, “This film is about as elemental as filmmaking gets and as tough as her very best work.”
Taubin then spoke about her first encounter with Akerman in 1970 when the Belgian filmmaker became enamored by the avant-garde scene of New American Cinema. Taubin described how Akerman looked to both the home movie films of avant-garde filmmakers such as Jonas Mekas, as well as the structuralist, minimalist works of filmmakers like Michael Snow, before making a mixture that was all her own. Noting how her films stood out, Taubin said, “They’re mixed with what mattered emotionally to her, and that was her passionate connection to women — to a mother first, last and always — but [also] to friends and lovers and her actresses.”
Taubin continued, “Her films are not about women out of a feminist, political agenda, nothing could be further from them than this sense we have in the culture now that there should be more films by women and about women. These films are the only films that she could have made and they came absolutely out of her experience, what was personal in her experience and also political in her experience.”
Speaking about “No Home Movie,” Taubin said, “She’s been working on many works about her mother and her mother’s impending death. In the past five or six years, they took the form of writing a long, long text about her mother’s last years, an installation that went with it, a live performance of that text, which ends with a sentence, ‘Life or not.’ To make films raw and urgent and magnificently formed without a trace of sentimentality kept her on the side of life.”
Over the course of her films, Akerman had frequently chronicled depression and her haunted past that predates her existence as the daughter of Holocaust survivors. In “No Home Movie,” Akerman tries to communicate with and capture the memory of her mother before she is gone. She does this by documenting her everyday existence, using a digital grain that evokes the home movies of our youth. The film takes place largely in a domestic setting at times eerily familiar to that of her magnum opus, “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles.” Once again, Akerman incorporates static shots that demand our patience and make us acutely aware of the passage of time.
After the film concluded, “No Home Movie” was given a heartfelt round of applause by an audience that included some of Akerman’s friends and colleagues. But as the crowd headed towards a reception at the adjacent Furman Gallery, it became clear that the film proved unsettling and somewhat polarizing amongst the audience members. Some strangers seemed desperate to connect over the film, while others said it had moved them to tears. The divided reaction among the crowd to the painfully raw and oftentimes difficult film only confirms that Akerman never lost her power to overwhelm us with beauty and emotion or lost her power to shake us from our comfort.
In remembrance of Akerman, the Film Society of Lincoln Center will hold two free screenings of the director’s films on Friday at the Howard Gilman Theater. The documentary “Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman” will be screened at 3:15pm, followed by “Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” at 5:00pm.