Belgian filmmaker and theorist Chantal Akerman has died, it has been reported. She was 65. No official details have been confirmed, but French paper Le Monde has claimed it was a suicide. Akerman’s passing comes shortly after the showing of her latest film, “No Home Movie,” at the Locarno Film Festival. It still has three screenings coming up at the New York Film Festival and is, like much of her work, uncompromising and fantastic.
Akerman has long best known for “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” her landmark, 1975 experiment in minimalist cinema. Running some 3 ½ hours, it spies on the daily duties of a stay-at-home single mom (Delphine Seyrig) as she does menial chores, such as cutting potatoes, washing a bathtub and buy groceries — all unfolding in stationary shots that mostly run several minutes at a time. Seyrig’s Jeanne also uses her home to see men, who arrive for wordless dalliances she performs with the same dispassion with which she does her chores.
Time, as it does in the similar but different films of Andrei Tarkovsky, Andy Warhol and Bela Tarr, evaporates. And yet “Jeanne Dielman” also trains the willing viewer on how to watch it. Soon, instead of viewing her business as dull, we become enraptured by her every move, in suspense as she does something as basic as set the dinner table. Each time this writer has seen the film the audience gasped at a moment late in when the unraveling Jeanne drops a spoon on the kitchen floor, reacting like a horror movie room would to a boo. Made when Akerman was only 24, it’s a pioneering work of both experimental and feminist cinema.