Programmed by Alex Kong
"Arguably the most important European director of her generation." -J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
"A world-class filmmaker and one of the most indispensable of her post-Godard generation." -Amy Taubin, Film Comment
On the occasion of Facets Cinémathèque's Chantal Akerman retrospective in 1990, Jonathan Rosenbaum lamented that "this is the most complete presentation of Akerman's work that Chicagoans are likely to get in the foreseeable future." Almost 30 years later, Doc Films is excited to host the first Akerman retrospective in Chicago since this sadly prescient prediction. Chantal Akerman's revolutionary innovation was to synthesize the formalist preoccupations of the American avant-garde (especially those of "structuralist" filmmakers like Michael Snow and Hollis Frampton, whom she admired greatly) with the narrative cinema of the European modernists. She pushed to exhilarating lengths the species of narrative pioneered by Antonioni, drained of (traditional) suspense and identification with characters, and reoriented it around a trenchantly political vision: one distinctly inflected by her feminist, LGBTQ, and Jewish identity. Akerman's filmmaking redirects our attention to those aspects of the everyday that ordinarily escape scrutiny, because they are so omnipresent as to become invisible--her contention was that these familiar, ubiquitous textures of daily life are in fact repositories of vast political significance. In her masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, for example, she focused in on the overlooked domestic labor of the housewife and the psychic toll that it exacts. Similarly, her work is marked by an interrogation of sexuality in all of its forms, and is persistently haunted by the specter of the Holocaust (her mother was imprisoned at Auschwitz, and her grandparents died there). Throughout her oeuvre, Akerman placed these political commitments into conversation with a melancholy treatment of loneliness; with the question of what it means to exist in a condition of liminality, both interpersonal and political. As Akerman herself put it: "I don't belong anywhere." Her untimely death by suicide in 2015 imbues her work with an even greater urgency.
(Chantal Akerman, 1972 + 1977) · In this pair of delicate urban nocturnes, Akerman ruminates on loneliness in the modern city. Hôtel Monterey patiently explores the surfaces of a seedy Manhattan hotel, stumbling upon unexpected, Hopper-esque beauty. News From Home is more restless; its epistolary form layers Akerman's voiceover, reading actual letters from her mother, over images of 70s New York. Filmed in the wake of Akerman's own dislocation to the U.S., its meditations on isolation, alienation, and homesickness are charged with a confessional intimacy.
runtime: 62m + 88m format: DCP
(Chantal Akerman, 1974) · Je tu il elle is a plaintive depiction of solitude, as well as a rigorous investigation into the cinematic representation of sex. Akerman herself stars as the heroine who flees her self-destructive isolation in search of an uncertain destination. Jennie Livingston, the director of Paris is Burning, says that "I can think of no other film that is, in its sex scenes, as profound and playful a meditation about how we see sex in the movies, by being entirely what erotic experience in the movies is, for the most part, not."
runtime: 90m format: DCP
(Chantal Akerman, 1975) · With this incendiary masterpiece, Akerman single-handedly seized the trajectory of film history and bent it to her will. The incomparable Delphine Seyrig (Last Year at Marienbad) stars as a middle-aged housewife, whose psyche soon begins to fray under the various pressures of bourgeois life. Monumental in every sense--length, scope, ambition, and influence--Jeanne Dielman synthesizes radical political critique with a daring exploration of cinematic temporality.
runtime: 201m format: 35mm
(Chantal Akerman, 1982) · During a torrid summer night in Brussels, a cast of drifting figurants (over two dozen of them) search restlessly for companionship, colliding with and separating from one another like hopped-up molecules of boiling water. Stripped of a narrative through-line, the film brims with longing as it surveys the detritus of attempted relationships. From this series of encounters between strangers and lovers, Toute Une Nuit fashions a kaleidoscopic choreography of missed chances and tentative connections.
runtime: 90m format: 35mm
(Chantal Akerman, 1986) · Set entirely in a sleek shopping mall, this fluffy romantic comedy adds the Singing in the Rain-style musical to Akerman's repertoire. Jeanne (Delphine Seyrig), the owner of a clothing store, is the center of a maelstrom of romantic intrigue that swirls outward to entangle a cast of zany characters. Akerman took a hard left turn with this delightfully whimsical ode to popular cinema, which boasts an eye-popping cotton-candy color palette and a stable of rousing musical numbers.
runtime: 96m format: DCP
(Chantal Akerman, 1991) · Julie and Jack are a pair of young lovers, freshly transplanted to Paris from the countryside, who spend their days inflamed with passion. The nights they spend apart, as Jack drives a taxi and Julie wanders the city, absorbing the sights and sounds. She soon becomes involved with Joseph, who drives Jack's cab during the day. This postmodern revision of Jules et Jim pays tribute to the reckless abandon and ephemerality of young romance.
runtime: 95m format: 35mm
(Chantal Akerman, 1993) · Imported print! "If this isn't a masterpiece, tear the word from your dictionary," trumpeted Stuart Klawans. Shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Akerman set off across Eastern Europe in pursuit of the fading vestiges of a crumbling world, endeavoring to capture the lives of those who had quietly subsisted within it. Undertaken by filming "everything that touched me," From the East is a documentary that only Akerman could have made, shot through with tenderness and melancholy.
runtime: 110m format: 16mm
(Chantal Akerman, 2000) · Imported 35mm print! This adaptation of Proust's La Prisonnière tracks the obsessive fascination of a wealthy man with his mysteriously distant girlfriend. She goes along with his increasingly onerous demands, remaining passively frigid throughout--which only intensifies his torment. He is soon driven to desperate lengths in his attempt to possess her inner emotional world. La Captive dramatizes, with the muggy quality of a dream, the despair born of never being able to truly know another person.
runtime: 118m format: 35mm
(Chantal Akerman, 2015) · No Home Movie is inescapably haunted by the presence of Akerman, who committed suicide just two days before its premiere. In this startlingly intimate portrait of her mother Natalia (a Holocaust survivor) in her final years, Akerman bears witness to her reflections and regrets. Despite the tragic conditions of its release, the film serves as a triumphant summa of the themes that preoccupied Akerman throughout her career and her life.
runtime: 115m format: DCP