‘No Home Movie’
The death, allegedly by her own hand, of Chantal Akerman on Tuesday inevitably changes “No Home Movie.” The film, which has now become the filmmaker’s swan song, bows at the New York Film Festival only a day after her passing was made public. Even viewed before her death, it seemed, like much of her work, like a film about ghosts — a study of mere duration, of people who at one with spaces, and, most glaringly, of Akerman’s lovable sparkplug of a mother, who too has since slipped off into the infinite. Maybe once its unending long takes of nothing much, or simply in fact nothing at all, seemed combative to modern viewers used to constant stimulation. Now it seems like a record of non-events even Akerman didn’t know would become special.
Akerman was a diverse filmmaker who, in addition to making various breeds of experimental cinema, even did fluffy screwball comedies (“A Couch in New York,” with Juliette Binoche and William Hurt) and musicals (“Golden Eighties”). But her name was most associated with her minimalist works, chiefly 1975’s “Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai Du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles,” which fills three hours and 20 minutes with epic long takes of a woman’s (Delphine Seyrig) menial housework, gradually building to her last-minute implosion. “No Home Movie” goes even more extreme into nothingness. It’s closer to her 1972 short “Hotel Monterey,” where she plops her camera down inside the dingy confines of a New York hotel, forcing us to stare, for minutes on end, at the innards of a place forgotten by time.
The place most often visited in “No Home Movie” isn’t really forgotten so much as only ever inhabited by a few: the apartment belonging to Akerman’s mom. We’re not told much about her mother, though she’s cropped up often in her daughter’s work, including 1977’s “News from Home,” in which Akerman combines shots of grimy ’70s NYC — which nearly four decades later look like an alien landscape — with doting letters from her mom read on the soundtrack. Sometimes Akerman engages with her directly, but it’s mostly chitchat, with one attempt to get her to open up about surviving the Holocaust that ultimately slides back into idle conversation. There are two separate Skype conversations, both mostly love fests, and both featuring Akerman stating outright that, by filming her talking to her mom over computer, she’s trying to point out that distance, in the Internet age, no longer exists.