Chantal Akerman

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Chantal Akerman
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Chantal Akerman in 2012
Chantal Anne Akerman

(1950-06-06)6 June 1950
Died5 October 2015(2015-10-05) (aged 65)
Cause of death Suicide
OccupationFilm director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor
Years active1968–2015
Notable work
Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Chantal Anne Akerman (French:  [akɛʁman] ; 6 June 1950 5 October 2015) was a Belgian film director, screenwriter, artist, and film professor at the City College of New York. [1] She is best known for her three hour magnum opus Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975), which was dubbed a "masterpiece" by The New York Times . According to film scholar Gwendolyn Audrey Foster, Akerman's influence on feminist filmmaking and avant-garde cinema has been substantial. [2]

Film director Person who controls the artistic and dramatic aspects of a film production

A film director is a person who directs the making of a film. A film director controls a film's artistic and dramatic aspects and visualizes the screenplay while guiding the technical crew and actors in the fulfilment of that vision. The director has a key role in choosing the cast members, production design, and the creative aspects of filmmaking. Under European Union law, the director is viewed as the author of the film.

Screenwriter writer who writes for TV, films, comics and games

A screenplay writer, scriptwriter or scenarist is a writer who practices the craft of screenwriting, writing screenplays on which mass media, such as films, television programs and video games, are based.

Artist person who creates, practises and/or demonstrates any art

An artist is a person engaged in an activity related to creating art, practicing the arts, or demonstrating an art. The common usage in both everyday speech and academic discourse is a practitioner in the visual arts only. The term is often used in the entertainment business, especially in a business context, for musicians and other performers. "Artiste" is a variant used in English only in this context; this use is becoming rare. Use of the term to describe writers, for example, is valid, but less common, and mostly restricted to contexts like criticism.


Early life and education

Akerman was born in Brussels, Belgium to Holocaust survivors from Poland. [3] She was the older sister of Sylviane Akerman, her only sibling. Her mother Natalia (Nelly) had survived years at Auschwitz, where her own parents had died. [4] From a young age, Akerman and her mother were exceptionally close, and she encouraged her daughter to pursue a career rather than marry young. [5]

Brussels Capital region of Belgium

Brussels, officially the Brussels-Capital Region, is a region of Belgium comprising 19 municipalities, including the City of Brussels, which is the capital of Belgium. The Brussels-Capital Region is located in the central portion of the country and is a part of both the French Community of Belgium and the Flemish Community, but is separate from the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region. Brussels is the most densely populated and the richest region in Belgium in terms of GDP per capita. It covers 161 km2 (62 sq mi), a relatively small area compared to the two other regions, and has a population of 1.2 million. The metropolitan area of Brussels counts over 2.1 million people, which makes it the largest in Belgium. It is also part of a large conurbation extending towards Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven and Walloon Brabant, home to over 5 million people.

Belgium Federal constitutional monarchy in Western Europe

Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in Western Europe. It is bordered by the Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast, France to the southwest, and the North Sea to the northwest. It covers an area of 30,688 km2 (11,849 sq mi) and has a population of more than 11.4 million. The capital and largest city is Brussels; other major cities are Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi and Liège.

Poland Republic in Central Europe

Poland, officially the Republic of Poland, is a country located in Central Europe. It is divided into 16 administrative subdivisions, covering an area of 312,696 square kilometres (120,733 sq mi), and has a largely temperate seasonal climate. With a population of approximately 38.5 million people, Poland is the sixth most populous member state of the European Union. Poland's capital and largest metropolis is Warsaw. Other major cities include Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Poznań, Gdańsk, and Szczecin.

At age 18, Akerman entered the Institut National Supérieur des Arts du Spectacle et des Techniques de Diffusion, a Belgian film school. Akerman dropped out during her first term to make the short film Saute ma ville; she funded the film's costs by trading diamond shares on the Antwerp stock exchange. [6]

The Institut national supérieur des arts du spectacle et des techniques de diffusion, better known as INSAS, is a Belgian film and drama school founded by Raymond Ravar, André Delvaux, Paul Anrieu, and Jean Brismée in 1962.

A film school is any educational institution dedicated to teaching aspects of filmmaking, including such subjects as film production, film theory, digital media production, and screenwriting. Film history courses and hands-on technical training are usually incorporated into most film school curricula. Technical training may include instruction in the use and operation of cameras, lighting equipment, film or video editing equipment and software, and other relevant equipment. Film schools may also include courses and training in such subjects as television production, broadcasting, audio engineering, and animation.

A short film is any motion picture not long enough to be considered a feature film. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences defines a short film as "an original motion picture that has a running time of 40 minutes or less, including all credits". In the United States, short films were generally termed short subjects from the 1920s into the 1970s when confined to two 35mm reels or less, and featurettes for a film of three or four reels. "Short" was an abbreviation for either term.


Akerman had an extremely close relationship with her mother, captured in some of her films. In 1976 News From Home , Akerman's mother's letters outlining mundane family activities serve as a soundtrack throughout the film. [7] The 2015 No Home Movie centers on mother-daughter relationships, largely situated in the kitchen, and is a response to her mother's death. [8] The film explores issues of metempsychosis, [8] the last shot of the film acting as a memento mori of the mother's apartment. [7]

<i>No Home Movie</i> 2015 film by Chantal Akerman

No Home Movie is a French-Belgian 2015 documentary film directed by Chantal Akerman, focusing on conversations between the film-maker and her mother just months before her mother's death. The film premiered at the Locarno Film Festival on 10 August 2015. It is Akerman's last film.

Metempsychosis is a philosophical term in the Greek language referring to transmigration of the soul, especially its reincarnation after death. Generally, the term is derived from the context of ancient Greek philosophy, and has been recontextualised by modern philosophers such as Arthur Schopenhauer and Kurt Gödel; otherwise, the term "transmigration" is more appropriate. The word plays a prominent role in James Joyce's Ulysses and is also associated with Nietzsche. Another term sometimes used synonymously is palingenesis.

Akerman acknowledged that her mother was at the center of her work and admitted to feeling directionless after her death. [7] 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. [7] In Family In Brussels, Akerman narrates the story, interchanging her own voice with her mother's. [7]


Early work and influences

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. [9] That year, she moved to New York City, where she remained until 1972.

Jean-Luc Godard French-Swiss film director, screenwriter and film critic

Jean-Luc Godard is a French-Swiss film director, screenwriter and film critic. He rose to prominence as a pioneer of the 1960s French New Wave film movement.

International Short Film Festival Oberhausen annual film festival held in Oberhausen, Germany

The International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, founded in 1954, is one of the oldest short film festivals in the world. Held in Oberhausen, it is one of the major international platforms for short form. The festival holds an International Competition, German Competition and International Children's and Youth Film Competition as well as the MuVi Award for best German music video and, since 2009, the NRW Competition for productions from the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

New York City Largest city in the United States

The City of New York, usually called either New York City (NYC) or simply New York (NY), is the most populous city in the United States. With an estimated 2018 population of 8,398,748 distributed over a land area of about 302.6 square miles (784 km2), New York is also the most densely populated major city in the United States. Located at the southern tip of the state of New York, the city is the center of the New York metropolitan area, the largest metropolitan area in the world by urban landmass and one of the world's most populous megacities, with an estimated 19,979,477 people in its 2018 Metropolitan Statistical Area and 22,679,948 residents in its Combined Statistical Area. A global power city, New York City has been described as the cultural, financial, and media capital of the world, and exerts a significant impact upon commerce, entertainment, research, technology, education, politics, tourism, art, fashion, and sports. The city's fast pace has inspired the term New York minute. Home to the headquarters of the United Nations, New York is an important center for international diplomacy.

At Anthology Film Archives in New York, Akerman was impressed with the work of Stan Brakhage, Jonas Mekas, Michael Snow, Yvonne Rainer, and Andy Warhol.

Critical recognition

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". Chantal Akerman scholar Ivone Margulies says the picture is a filmic paradigm for uniting feminism and anti-illusionism. [6] The film was named the 19th greatest film of the 20th century by J. Hoberman of the Village Voice . [10]


Akerman has acknowledged that her cinematic approach can be explained, in part, through the writings of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. [11] Deleuze and Guattari write about the concept of minor literature as being characterized by the following things:

Deleuze and Guattari claim that these characteristics describe the revolutionary conditions within the canon of literature. [12] Akerman has referenced Deleuze and Guattari on how, in minor literature, the characters assume an immediate, nonhierarchical relation between small individual matters and economic, commercial, juridical, and political ones. [11] 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 an undesirable position. [13]


Akerman has used the setting of a kitchen to explore the intersection between femininity and domesticity. [14] The kitchens in Akerman's work provide intimate spaces for connection and conversation and serve the function of a backdrop to the dramas of daily life. [14] The kitchens, alongside other domestic spaces, act as self-confining prisons under patriarchal conditions. [14] In Akerman's work, the kitchen acts as a domestic theatre. [15]

Although Akerman is often grouped within feminist and queer thinking, the filmmaker has articulated her distance from an essentialist feminism. [11] Akerman resists labels relating to her identity like "female", "Jewish" and "lesbian", choosing instead to immerse herself in the identity of being a daughter; Akerman has stated that she sees film as a "generative field of freedom from the boundaries of identity". [8] The filmmaker has advocated for multiplicity of expression, explaining that "when people say there is a feminist film language, it is like saying there is only one way for women to express themselves". [11] The filmmaker asserted that there are as many cinematic languages as there are individuals. [8]

Writer and scholar Ivone Marguiles notes that Akerman's resistance to be categorized 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". [11]

Akerman works with the feminist motto of the personal being political, complicating it by an investigation of representational links between private and public. [11] In Jeanne Dielman, Akerman's most well-known film, the main protagonist does not supply a transparent, accurate representation of a fixed social reality. [11] Throughout the film, the housewife and prostitute Jeanne is revealed to be a construct, with multiple historical, social, and cinematic resonances. [11]

Akerman engages with realist representations, a form which is historically grounded to act as a feminist gesture and simultaneously as an "irritant" to fixed categories of "woman". [11]

Later career

In 1991, Akerman was a member of the jury at the 41st Berlin International Film Festival. [16] 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. [17]


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 has 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. [18]

The 2015 Venice Biennale included 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 her final video installation NOW (2015) in the exhibition Scenes from the Collection, and acquired her work for the collection. [19]


Akerman's cinematography is characterized by the dryness of language, the lack of metaphorical associations, the composition in a series of discontinuous blocks, the interest in putting a poor, withered syntax and reduced vocabulary at the service of a new intensity. [12] Many directors have cited Akerman's films as an influence on their work. [14] Kelly Reichardt, Gus Van Sant, and Sofia Coppola have noted their exploration of filming in real time as a tribute to Akerman. [14]

Terrie Sultan, art historian, claims that Akerman's "narrative is marked by an almost Proustian attention to detail and visual grace". [20] Similarly, Akerman's visual language resists easy categorization and summarization: the filmmaker creates narrative through filmic syntax instead of plot development. [21]

Akerman was influenced by European art cinema, as well as structuralist film. [8] Structuralist film used formalist experimentation to propose a reciprocal relationship between image and viewer. [8] 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. [8] Akerman was drawn to the perceived dullness of structuralism because it rejected the dominant cinema's concern for plot. [8] As a teenager in Brussels, Akerman skipped school in order to see movies, including films from the experimental festival in Knokke-le-Zoute. [8]

Akerman addresses the voyeurism that is always present within cinematic discourse by often playing a character within her films, thus placing herself on both sides of the camera simultaneously. [8] The filmmaker used the boredom of structuralism in order to generate a bodily feeling in the viewer, accentuating the passage of time. [8]

Akerman's filming style relies on capturing ordinary life. By encouraging viewers to have patience for a slower pace, her films emphasize the humanity of the everyday. [21] Kathy Halbreich states that the filmmaker "creates a cinema of waiting, of passages, of resolutions deferred". [22]

Many of Akerman's films portray the movement of people across distances or their absorption with claustrophobic spaces. [8] Curator Jon Davies states that Akerman's domestic interiors "conceal gendered labour and violence, secrecy and shame, where traumas both large and small unfold with few, if any witnesses". [8]


Akerman died on 5 October 2015 in Paris; Le Monde reported that she had died by suicide. [23] She was 65. [3] [24] [25] 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." [26]

According to Akerman's sister, she had recently been hospitalized for depression, before returning home to Paris ten days prior to her death. [3]


1968 Saute ma Ville 13 minutesBlow up My Town
1971L'enfant aimé ou Je joue à être une femme mariée35 minutesThe Beloved Child, or I Play at Being a Married Woman
1972La Chambre 111 minutesAkerman was also film editorThe Room 1
1972La Chambre 211 minutesAkerman was also film editorThe Room 2
1972 Hotel Monterey 62 minutes
1973Le 15/842 minutesco-directed by Samy Szlingerbaum
Akerman was also joint cinematographer and film editor
1973 Hanging Out Yonkers 90 minutesunfinished
1974 I, You, He, She 90 minutes
1975 Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles 201 minutes
1976 News from Home 85 minutes
1978 Les Rendez-vous d'Anna 127 minutesMeetings with Anna
1980 Dis-moi 127 minutesTell Me
1982 Toute une nuit 89 minutesAll Night Long [27]
1983Les Années 8082 minutesThe Eighties
1983Un jour Pina à demandé57 minutesOne Day Pina Asked Me
1983L'homme à la valise60 minutesThe Man With the Suitcase
1984J'ai faim, j'ai froid12 minutessegment for Paris vu par, 20 ans aprèsI'm Hungry, I'm Cold
1984New York, New York bis8 minuteslost
1984Lettre d'un cinéaste8 minutesLetter from a Filmmaker
1986Golden Eighties96 minutesWindow Shopping
1986La paresse14 minutessegment for Seven Women, Seven SinsSloth
1986Le marteau4 minutesThe Hammer
1986Letters Home104 minutes
1986Mallet-Stevens7 minutes
1989 Histoires d'Amérique 92 minutesEntered into the 39th Berlin International Film Festival [28] Food, Family, and Philosophy
1989 Les trois dernières sonates de Franz Schubert 49 minutesFranz Schubert's Last Three Sonatas
1989Trois strophes sur le nom de Sacher12 minutesThree Stanzas on the Name Sacher
1991 Nuit et jour 90 minutesEntered into the 48th Venice International Film Festival Night and Day
1992Le déménagement42 minutesMoving In
1992Contre l'oubli110 minutesAkerman directed one short segmentAgainst Oblivion
1993 D'Est 107 minutesFrom the East
1993Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles60 minutesPortrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels
1996 Un divan à New York 108 minutesA Couch in New York
1997Chantal Akerman par Chantal Akerman64 minutes
1999Sud71 minutesSouth
2000 La Captive 118 minutesCollaboration with Eric de Kuyper The Captive
2002De l'autre côté103 minutesAkerman was also one of three cinematographersFrom the Other Side
2004 Demain on déménage 110 minutesCollaboration with Eric de Kuyper Tomorrow We Move
2006 Là-bas 78 minutesAkerman was also cinematographer with Robert Fenz
2007Tombée de nuit sur Shanghaï60 minutessegment for O Estado do Mundo
2011 La Folie Almayer 127 minutesAlmayer's Folly
2015 No Home Movie 115 minutesAkerman was also cinematographer

See also

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  1. "Chantal Akerman, Whose Films Examined Women's Inner Lives, Dies at 65". The New York Times.
  2. Foster, Gwendolyn Audrey, ed. (2003). Identity and Memory: The Films of Chantal Akerman. SIU Press. p. 204. ISBN   978-0809325139.
  3. 1 2 3 Donadio, Rachel; Buckley, Clara (6 October 2015). "Chantal Akerman, Pioneering Belgian Filmmaker, Dies at 65". The New York Times. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  4. Romney, Jonathan. "Chantal Akerman obituary". the Guardian. Retrieved 10 October 2015.
  5. "Chantal Akerman: My family and other dark materials". Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  6. 1 2 Margulies, Ivone. "A Matter of Time: Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 18 August 2009.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Lebow, Alisa (2016). "Identity Slips: The Autobiographical Register In The Work Of Chantal Akerman". Film Quarterly. 1 (70): 54–60.
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  9. Margulies, Ivone (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's hyperrealist everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 2. ISBN   0-8223-1723-0.
  10. Hoberman, J. (2001) [4 January 2000]. "100 Best Films of the 20th Century: Village Voice Critics' Poll". The Village Voice (reprint ed.). Reprinted by AMC.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Marguilles, Ivonne (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 32. ISBN   9780822317265.
  12. 1 2 3 Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix; Brinkley, Robert (1983). "What Is A Minor Literature?". Mississippi Review. 3 (1).
  13. Marguilles, Ivonne (1996). Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman's Hyperrealist Everyday. Durham: Duke University Press. p. 25. ISBN   9780822317265.
  14. 1 2 3 4 5 Donadio, Rachel (25 March 2016). "The Director's Director: Chantal Akerman". New York Times.
  15. Akerman, Chantal; Sultan, Terrie (2008). Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space. Bluffer Gallery, Art Museum of the University of Houston: Distributed Art Publishers. p. 7.
  16. "Berlinale: 1991 Juries". Retrieved 21 March 2011.
  17. "Chantal Akerman feature is tapped for New York Film Festival | The City College of New York". 18 September 2015.
  18. "Scenes from the Collection". The Jewish Museum. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  19. Akerman, Chantal; Sultan, Terrie (2008). Chantal Akerman: Moving Through Time and Space. Bluffer Gallery, Art Museum of the University of Houston: Distributed Art Publishers. p. 26.
  20. 1 2 Akerman, Chantal; David, Catherine; Michael, Tarantino (1995). Bordering On Fiction: Chantal Akerman's D'Est. Minneapolis, Walker Art Center: New York: Distribured Art Publishers. p. 54.
  21. Akerman, Chantal; David, Catherine; Michael, Tarantino (1995). Bordering On Fiction: Chantal Akerman's D'Est. Minneapolis, Walker Art Center: New York: Distribured Art Publishers. p. 26.
  22. Isabelle Regnier (6 October 2015). "La cinéaste Chantal Akerman est morte". Le Monde. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  23. Julien Gester (6 October 2015). "Mort de la cinéaste Chantal Akerman". Libération. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  24. Catherine Shoard (6 October 2015). "Chantal Akerman, pioneering Belgian film director and theorist, dies aged 65". Guardian. Retrieved 6 October 2015.
  25. Rapold, Nicolas (5 August 2015), Chantal Akerman Takes Emotional Path in Film About 'Maman', The New York Times, retrieved 24 November 2015
  26. "Paradise Films - Movies". 30 January 2014. Archived from the original on 5 November 2014. Retrieved 21 February 2016.
  27. "Berlinale: 1989 Programme". Retrieved 11 March 2011.

Further reading

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