Chantal Anne Akerman (French: [ʃɑ̃tal akɛʁman]; 6 June 1950 – 5 October 2015) was a Belgian film director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor at the City College of New York. She is best known for Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), which The New York Times called a "masterpiece". According to film scholar Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Akerman's influence on feminist and avant-garde cinema is substantial.
Chantal Anne Akerman
6 June 1950
|Died||5 October 2015 (aged 65)|
|Occupation||Film director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor|
|Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, Je Tu Il Elle, Les Rendez-vous d'Anna, News from Home|
Early life and educationEdit
Akerman was born in Brussels, Belgium, to Holocaust survivors from Poland. She was the older sister of Sylviane Akerman, her only sibling. Her mother, Natalia (Nelly), survived years at Auschwitz, where her own parents were murdered. From a young age, Akerman and her mother were exceptionally close, and she encouraged her daughter to pursue a career rather than marry young.
At age 18, Akerman entered the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion, a Belgian film school. She dropped out during her first term to make the short film Saute ma ville, funding it by trading diamond shares on the Antwerp stock exchange.
Akerman had an extremely close relationship with her mother, captured in some of her films. In News from Home (1976), Akerman's mother's letters outlining mundane family activities serve as a soundtrack throughout. Her 2015 film No Home Movie centers on mother-daughter relationships, largely situated in the kitchen, and is a response to her mother's death. The film explores issues of metempsychosis, the last shot of the film acting as a memento mori of the mother's apartment.
Akerman acknowledged that her mother was at the center of her work and admitted to feeling directionless after her death. The maternal imagery can be found throughout all of Akerman's films as an homage and an attempt to reconstitute the image and voice of the mother. In Family in Brussels, Akerman narrates the story, interchanging her own voice with her mother's.
Early work and influencesEdit
Akerman claimed that, at the age of 15, after viewing Jean-Luc Godard's Pierrot le fou (1965), she decided, that same night, to become a filmmaker. In 1971, Akerman's first short film, Saute ma ville, premiered at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. That year, she moved to New York City, where she remained until 1972.
Her first feature film, Hotel Monterey (1972), and subsequent short films La Chambre 1 and La Chambre 2 reveal the influence of structural filmmaking through these films' usage of long takes. These protracted shots serve to oscillate images between abstraction and figuration. Akerman's films from this period also signify the start of her collaboration with cinematographer Babette Mangolte.
In 1973 Akerman returned to Belgium, and in 1974 she received critical recognition for her feature Je, Tu, Il, Elle (I, You, He, She). Feminist and queer film scholar B. Ruby Rich noted that Je Tu Il Elle can be seen as a "cinematic Rosetta Stone of female sexuality".
Akerman's most significant film, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, was released in 1975. Often considered one of the greatest examples of feminist filmmaking, the film makes a hypnotic, real-time study of a middle-aged widow's stifling routine of domestic chores and prostitution. Upon the film's release, The New York Times called Jeanne Dielman the "first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema". Scholar Ivone Margulies says the picture is a filmic paradigm for uniting feminism and anti-illusionism. The film was named the 19th greatest film of the 20th century by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice.
Akerman has acknowledged that her cinematic approach can be explained, in part, through the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Deleuze and Guattari write about the concept of minor literature as being characterized by the following things:
- 1. Minor literature is the literature that a minority makes in a major language; the language is affected by a strong coefficient of deterritorialization.
- 2. Every individual matter is immediately plugged into political because minor literature exists in a narrow space.
- 3. Everything has a collective value: what the solitary writer says already has collective value.
Deleuze and Guattari claim that these characteristics describe the revolutionary conditions within the canon of literature. Akerman has referenced Deleuze and Guattari on how, in minor literature, characters assume an immediate, nonhierarchical relation between small individual matters and economic, commercial, juridical, and political ones. While the filmmaker has an interest in multiple deterritorializations, she also considers the feminist demand for the exercise of identity, where a borderline status may be undesirable.
Akerman has used the setting of a kitchen to explore the intersection between femininity and domesticity. The kitchens in her work provide intimate spaces for connection and conversation, functioning as a backdrop to the dramas of daily life. The kitchens, alongside other domestic spaces, act as self-confining prisons under patriarchal conditions. In Akerman's work, the kitchen acts as a domestic theatre.
Akerman is often grouped within feminist and queer thinking, but she articulated her distance from an essentialist feminism. Akerman resisted labels relating to her identity like "female", "Jewish" and "lesbian", choosing instead to immerse herself in the identity of being a daughter; she said she saw film as a "generative field of freedom from the boundaries of identity". She advocated for multiplicity of expression, explaining, "when people say there is a feminist film language, it is like saying there is only one way for women to express themselves". For Akerman, there are as many cinematic languages as there are individuals.
Marguiles argues that Akerman's resistance to categorization is in response to the rigidity of cinema's earlier essentialist realism and "indicates an awareness of the project of a transhistorical and transcultural feminist aesthetics of the cinema".
Akerman works with the feminist motto of the personal being political, complicating it by an investigation of representational links between private and public. In Jeanne Dielman, her best-known film, the protagonist does not supply a transparent, accurate representation of a fixed social reality. Throughout the film, the housewife and prostitute Jeanne is revealed to be a construct, with multiple historical, social, and cinematic resonances.
Akerman engages with realist representations, a form historically grounded to act as a feminist gesture and simultaneously as an "irritant" to fixed categories of "woman".
In 1991, Akerman was a member of the jury at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival. In 2011, she joined the full-time faculty of the MFA Program in Media Arts Production at the City College of New York as a distinguished lecturer and the first Michael & Irene Ross Visiting Professor of Film/Video & Jewish Studies.
Important solo exhibitions of Akerman's work have been held at the Museum for Contemporary Art, Antwerp, Belgium (2012), MIT, Cambridge Massachusetts (2008), the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel (2006); Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ (2006); and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris (2003). Akerman participated in Documenta XI (2002) and the Venice Biennale (2001).
In 2011, a film retrospective of Akerman's work was shown at the Austrian Film Museum.
The 2015 Venice Biennale included her final video installation, Now, an installation of interspersed parallel screens displaying the landscape-in-motion footage that would appear in "No Home Movie". In 2018, the Jewish Museum presented the installation in the exhibition Scenes from the Collection, and acquired her work for the collection.
Akerman's cinematography is characterized by dry language, a lack of metaphorical associations, composition in a series of discontinuous blocks, and interest in putting a poor, withered syntax and reduced vocabulary in service of a new intensity. Many directors have cited her films as an influence on their work. Kelly Reichardt, Gus Van Sant, and Sofia Coppola have noted their exploration of filming in real time as a tribute to Akerman.
Art historian Terrie Sultan claims that Akerman's "narrative is marked by an almost Proustian attention to detail and visual grace". Similarly, Akerman's visual language resists easy categorization and summarization: she creates narrative through filmic syntax instead of plot development.
Akerman was influenced by European art cinema as well as structuralist film. Structuralist film used formalist experimentation to propose a reciprocal relationship between image and viewer. Akerman cites Michael Snow as a structuralist inspiration, especially his film Wavelength, which is composed of a single shot of a photograph of a sea on a loft wall, with the camera slowly zooming in. Akerman was drawn to the perceived dullness of structuralism because it rejected the dominant cinema's concern for plot. As a teenager in Brussels, Akerman skipped school to see movies, including films from the experimental festival in Knokke-le-Zoute.
Akerman addresses the voyeurism that is always present within cinematic discourse by often playing a character within her films, placing herself on both sides of the camera simultaneously. She used the boredom of structuralism to generate a bodily feeling in the viewer, accentuating the passage of time.
Akerman's filming style relies on capturing ordinary life. By encouraging viewers to have patience with a slow pace, her films emphasize the humanity of the everyday. Kathy Halbreich writes that Akerman "creates a cinema of waiting, of passages, of resolutions deferred".
Many of Akerman's films portray the movement of people across distances or their absorption with claustrophobic spaces. Curator Jon Davies writes that her domestic interiors "conceal gendered labour and violence, secrecy and shame, where traumas both large and small unfold with few if any witnesses".
Akerman died on 5 October 2015 in Paris; Le Monde reported that she died by suicide. She was 65. Her last film was the documentary No Home Movie, a series of conversations with her mother shortly before her mother's death; of the film, she said: "I think if I knew I was going to do this, I wouldn't have dared to do it."
According to Akerman's sister, she had been hospitalized for depression and then returned home to Paris ten days before her death.
|1968||Saute ma Ville||13||Blow up My Town|
|1971||L'enfant aimé ou Je joue à être une femme mariée||35||The Beloved Child, or I Play at Being a Married Woman|
|1972||La Chambre 1||11||Akerman was also film editor||The Room 1|
|1972||La Chambre 2||11||Akerman was also film editor||The Room 2|
|1973||Le 15/8||42||co-directed by Samy Szlingerbaum
Akerman was also joint cinematographer and film editor
|1973||Hanging Out Yonkers||90||unfinished|
|1974||I, You, He, She||90|
|1975||Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles||201|
|1978||Les Rendez-vous d'Anna||127||Meetings with Anna|
|1982||Toute une nuit||89||All Night Long|
|1983||Les Années 80||82||The Eighties|
|1983||L'homme à la valise||60||The Man With the Suitcase|
|1984||J'ai faim, j'ai froid||12||segment for Paris vu par, 20 ans après||I'm Hungry, I'm Cold|
|1984||New York, New York bis||8||lost|
|1986||Golden Eighties||96||Window Shopping|
|1986||La paresse||14||segment for Seven Women, Seven Sins||Sloth|
|1986||Le marteau||4||The Hammer|
|1989||Histoires d'Amérique||92||Entered into the 39th Berlin International Film Festival||Food, Family, and Philosophy|
|1991||Nuit et jour||90||Entered into the 48th Venice International Film Festival||Night and Day|
|1992||Le déménagement||42||Moving In|
|1992||Contre l'oubli||110||Akerman directed one short segment||Against Oblivion|
|1994||Portrait d’une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 á Bruxelles||60||Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels|
|1996||Un divan à New York||108||A Couch in New York|
|2000||La Captive||118||Collaboration with Eric de Kuyper||The Captive|
|2004||Demain on déménage||110||Collaboration with Eric de Kuyper||Tomorrow We Move|
|2007||Tombée de nuit sur Shanghaï||60||segment for O Estado do Mundo|
|2011||La Folie Almayer||127||Almayer's Folly|
|1977||News from Home||85|
|1983||Les Années 80||82||The Eighties|
|1983||Un jour Pina à demandé||57||One Day Pina Asked Me / On Tour with Pina Bausch|
|1984||Lettre d'un cinéaste||8||Letter from a Filmmaker|
|1989||Les trois dernières sonates de Franz Schubert||49||Franz Schubert's Last Three Sonatas|
|1989||Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher||12||Three Stanzas on the Name Sacher|
|1993||D'Est||107||From the East|
|1997||Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman||64|
|2002||De l'autre côté||103||Akerman was also one of three cinematographers||From the Other Side|
|2003||Avec Sonia Wieder-Atherton||41|
|2006||Là-bas||78||Akerman was also cinematographer with Robert Fenz||Down There|
|2009||À l'Est avec Sonia Wieder-Atherton||84|
|2015||No Home Movie||115||Akerman was also cinematographer|
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- Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix; Brinkley, Robert (1983). "What Is A Minor Literature?". Mississippi Review. 3 (1).
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- Holly Rogers and Jeremy Barham (ed.): The Music and Sound of Experimental Film. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.
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Media related to Chantal Akerman at Wikimedia Commons