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TRIBUTES AND RETROSPECTIVES

Chantal Akerman

Chantal Akerman has said it time after time: her vocation for the cinema was born following her discovery, as a teenager, of Pierrot le fou. She suddenly understood that it was possible to make films different from those produced by the industry and – at barely 18 years of age – she took the plunge. This was Saute ma ville, a semi-professional short film in which she already: 1) filmed herself, 2) in her mother's kitchen, 3) until death. To say that this small film is prophetic is no exaggeration. This was followed by is a period New York which was an aesthetic education. While there she met Babette Mangolte, who would become her cinematographer, and discovered the work of the experimental filmmaker Michael Snow, from whom she adopted the extreme concentration of long shots despite any absence of events.


“Chantal Akerman wrote to us regularly. She put her address on the back of the envelope (Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles - 1975), she signed (Je, tu, il, elle - 1974), she gave news in English (News from Home - 1976), she even made appointments (Les Rendez-vous d'Anna - 1978). Letters arrived, thrown in the waste basket by some, read with passion by others. I was more a part of the ‘others’.” These words of Serge Daney (in volume 1 of his Ciné-Journal), clearly show the extent to which Akerman, at the heart of the 1970s, made films of capital importance, at the limits between the essay and self-fiction, haunted by her relationship with her mother, Natalia, a death-camp survivor. Each is different from the other through the use of individual directing styles producing works which are as conceptual as they are visceral, and which have been a constant source of inspiration for other filmmakers such as Gus Van Sant and Todd Haynes.


Akerman saw this golden age of her work as a heavy burden, especially Jeanne Dielman, her epic masterpiece, which was so accomplished and yet directed at such a young age that she feared she would never be able to do any better. She continued her existential exploration, daring to explore other registers. This meant musical comedy for the ambitious Golden Eighties – a studio film bringing together different generations of French cinema actors, from her first “fetish” actress Delphine Seyrig to Charles Denner and Lio. D'Est saw her set out on the roads of a Europe once again visible after the fall of the Berlin Wall. She returned with almost spectral images of a frozen world. A woman waiting for the bus makes a lasting impression. Is she not the distant mirror of Jeanne Dielman's ritualised and asphyxiating daily life?


In 2000, La Captive, based on Proust, a tale of obsessive love, came back to the inventiveness of her first films and No Home Movie, in 2014, about her sick mother, brought the work to a definitive close. Claire Atherton, her editor and accomplice for thirty years, revealed in a posthumous text the evidence that seized Akerman as she started to work on 20 hours of rushes: “(...) this film is about a character, a woman born in Poland, who arrived in Belgium in 1938 fleeing the pogroms and exactions. This woman is my mother. In, and only in, her flat in Brussels.” The tragic tone that Akerman’s work takes on with this final film should not hide the fact that her constant experimentation and her capacity to renew herself also takes the form of humour and a certain fantasy, particularly when she directs herself in numerous short films.


Chantal Akerman accepted to be a member of the jury in 1992 and it is with great joy and deep admiration that the Festival Premiers Plans is presenting her fundamental films in restored copies and in the presence of numerous guests.



Short films
Saute ma ville Belgium 1968 13mn
La Chambre Belgium 1972 11mn
Le 15/8 Belgium 1973 42mn


Feature films
Hôtel Monterey Belgium / United States 1973 1h05
Je, tu, il, elle Belgium / France 1974 1h26
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles Belgium / France 1975 3h22
News From Home France / Belgium / 1977 1h25
Anna's Meetings France / Belgium / 1978 2h00
Golden Eighties France / Belgium / Switzerland 1986 1h36
From the East Belgium / France / Portugal 1993 1h47
The Captive France / Belgium 2000 1h58
No Home Movie Belgium / France 2015 1h55


Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles Golden Eighties