The films of Chantal Akerman sculpt time. Her signature static frame, which often lingers without any corporeal presence in the shot, emphasizes time’s disregard for mortality. Faced with stillness, we feel the tick of the watch as the camera observes with an uninterrupted gaze—frequently lasting several minutes, an eternity on film. Unable to outrun time by a series of quick cuts, Akerman’s subjects instead move steadily towards an aestheticized disappearance. In this, Akerman makes the viewer physically aware of time; an aspect that renders her oeuvre difficult to digest for some.
The importance of Akerman’s defiant cinema has not completely revealed itself, but this spring’s city-wide celebration of her work brings us closer to understanding her impact. BAMcinématek will present a comprehensive retrospective April 1—May 1, opening with the New York theatrical premiere of her final film, No Home Movie. Film Forum will offer a free-to-the-public run of Marianne Lambert’s documentary I Don’t Belong Anywhere: The Cinema of Chantal Akerman, accompanied by the short film But Elsewhere Is Always Better, for one week, March 30—April 5. They will also screen a new restoration of Akerman’s Jeanne Dielman, Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles April 1—7. Anthology Film Archives, which Akerman credited as a major source of inspiration, will run No Home Movie and Là-bas in mid-April. In Queens, Museum of the Moving Image will screen D’Est April 2—3. For purchase, Icarus Films is set to release a boxed set of rare titles, Chantal Akerman: Four Films on March 29.
It’s hard to watch No Home Movie and I Don’t Belong Anywhere without feeling the chill of Akerman’s recent death. In No Home Movie, shot by Akerman on a handheld camera, we get a sense of Akerman’s intimate connection with her mother, who was at the heart of Akerman’s work. Echoes of her most famous film, Jeanne Dielman, reverberate through the dialogue and architecture of the film—particularly in the first conversation between Akerman and her mother about potatoes, which is a Proustian morsel for audience members familiar with Jeanne Dielman. Though she is no longer with us, there are instances throughout the film that attest to Akerman’s existence—a reflection in the window, breathing caught by the in-camera audio, and, of course, shots with Akerman actually in the frame. But as much as these glimpses confirm her presence, they also call upon the lack.
A self-described nomad, it would seem that for Akerman home is not so much a physical place as it is a feeling. With the death of her mother came the loss of a central home, an anxiety that Akerman touches on in I Don’t Belong Anywhere. “Now that my mother is no longer there, there is nobody left,” said Akerman to the camera. “That’s why now I’m afraid. I think that now that my mother is no longer there, will I have something to say?” Intermixed with interviews (including musings about her commercial attempt, A Couch in New York) and footage from her films, I Don’t Belong Anywhere is an invaluable document of Akerman’s insights into her own work and a fitting closing word on her final film. My only complaint: we don’t—and never will—get enough time with her.
In advance of the screenings, NYC-Arts will feature brief news coverage of the BAM retrospective on tonight’s episode. The full episode will be available here.