Chantal Akerman, born in Brussels, died in Paris on Monday. She was 65. Critic J. Hoberman once wrote, “Comparable in force and originality to Godard or Fassbinder, Chantal Akerman is arguably the most important European director of her generation.”
From her first masterpiece, “Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles” (1975), Akerman’s work changed cinema, transforming how stories can be told. Other groundbreaking films include “News from Home” (1977), “Golden Eighties” (1986), “From the East” (1983) and “La Captive” (2000).
Her most recent film, “No Home Movie,” a documentary about her beloved mother (a Holocaust survivor), time and death, is featured in NYFF53’s main slate and will screen today at 6:00 pm and Thursday, October 8 at 6:15 pm.
Kent Jones, director of the New York Film Festival, writing through shock (with heartbreaking eloquence), describes Akerman as he knew her and offers an appreciation of her work.
I photographed Chantal Akerman three times. The first was in Brussels, in August 1986, shortly after “Window Shopping” had been released. She appropriately suggested we shoot at a mall and gave me the address. I left the hotel an hour before the shoot time, with Mark, in our rented Citroën 2CV, with just a map (this was pre-cellphone, pre-GPS)–and never found the location, defeated by streets running out at plazas, and other urban complications. Chantal laughed at my story when I called her at home that evening, generously agreeing that Brussels has a very complicated layout.
We met the next day. She wore a pale green cotton sweater with a graphic element that looked like a black atom/flower. We were the same height (a surprise that she was so small, her reputation loomed so large). Photographing is license to stare and I did, as I focused on her large, startlingly blue green eyes.