Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Chantal Akerman special

On Sunday, I saw a couple of Chantal Akerman films as part of an appreciation at the local Liberty cinema.

First was Jeanne Dielman...[long title giving the name & address of the protagonist]. At 200+ min, the majority of it devoted to scenes of a homemaker doing her chores almost in real-time, it's jumping off at the deep end as an introduction to a director, and based on reputation I was all prepared to pronounce it as pretentious and dull, but the film has a rhythm and a reason for its structure. Day 1 can be interpreted as the last of the woman's orderly if dull existence. We see her wholly a creature of routine, her life devoted to accomplishing a series of tasks, be it cooking dinner, polishing her son's shoes, babysitting a neighbor's infant or sleeping with a regular client for money, all with the same unemotional precision. Day 2, we see a repetition of those tasks but with slight instances of disorder, like a tiny crack on a window, creeping into her routine, suggesting a long gestating mental breakdown. Day 3 shows those cracks spidering ever so little more, until we reach an abrupt startling crescendo

🚫[spoiler]where she stabs that day's client with a pair of scissors. It is shown that she gets an orgasm during sex prior to that and is therefore perhaps disturbed by her emotional involvement. I felt so, but not sure[/spoiler].🚫

The rhythm is what defines the film, stick with the first half hour or so of the film and it will suck you in. The differences in Day 2 will further intrigue you as to where the build-up is leading to, and the film doesn't disappoint in its culmination. There are instances where the film tests your patience, with 5 min static shots of the protagonist staring into space, but even if indulgent they make sense within the context of the film's thrust. I would urge people to see this film.

The other Akerman effort I saw was Je Tu Il Elle (I / you / he / she). It is at 86 min a brief venture. Although released in the same year as Jeanne Dielman, it carries far more of a student film feel. The opening segment has Akerman monologuing in stream of consciousness mode while we see her sleeping / writing / binging on sugar, all with / without her clothes on. The middle segment has her hitching up with a trucker who takes care of her. Apart from his instructing her in giving him a handjob we don't see any overt evidence of sexual interaction between them. There's a really good monologue (taken in a single shot, IIRC) in this section where the trucker rambles on about his married life and the routine it has been reduced to. It's a lot more comprehensible and easy to empathize with than the intellectual garbage of the first segment. In the concluding act of the film, Akerman joins up with a former girlfriend, with who she behaves in a terribly boorish fashion before proceeding to have vigorous sex with (a precursor to the sex scenes in Life of Adele). The end. My opinion: Akerman has a sexy Venus-like figure she fully exploits, but the film itself is prententious crap IMO.

There was also a 10-min short La Chambre (The Room), which is just a series of 360 degree pans around a 2 room apartment where the only change comes in the position and activity of the woman on the bed. If there was something to be made of this, it missed me entirely.

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