Sofia Coppola, Gus Van Sant, and Kelly Reichardt are among the many filmmakers who’ve cited the influence of Chantal Akerman on their films, and yet even for many cinephiles, the wide range of work of the Belgian filmmaker, artist, and writer—beyond her best-known film, Jeanne Dielman, 23, quai du commerce, 1080 Bruxelles—remains unexplored. A few new projects, all currently works in progress, should offer insight into this rich body of work.
The Fondation Chantal Akerman launched a new website earlier this month, on the anniversary of the premiere of Jeanne Dielman in Cannes in 1975, and it has the potential to become an essential resource for scholarship and discovery. The project is “still skeletal,” the Fondation admits, but for starters, we can browse through a few notebooks and photographs from Akerman’s collection documenting the making of Jeanne Dielman. Otherwise, the site is currently a neat arrangement of promising placeholders for future information about related films, books, and exhibitions. The project is being developed in collaboration with CINEMATEK, the museum, library, and movie theater in Brussels that also happens to be one of the largest film archives in the world. Akerman was on the board of directors and entrusted CINEMATEK with her films and materials for conservation and eventual restoration.
The launch comes a couple of weeks after the announcements of not one but two forthcoming translations of Ma mère rit (My Mother Laughs), Akerman’s memoir released in 2013 and shortlisted for the prestigious Prix Goncourt. In a piece on Akerman and her oeuvre in the recent Cinema Issue of the New York Review of Books, Max Nelson calls the book “a performance of the tension between Akerman’s private priorities and what she considered her duties as a daughter. Vignettes about her depression, her breakup with a younger woman identified only as ‘C,’ and her movements between Paris and Harlem (she taught film for some years at CUNY) are interwoven with an agonizing, detailed account of her mother’s declining health.”
Conversations with her dying mother are the central focus of Akerman’s final film, No Home Movie, which premiered in Locarno in August 2015, just two months before Akerman took her own life. Nelson quotes a few startling lines from Ma mère rit: “I’ve often wanted to kill myself. But I told myself I could not do that to my mother. Afterwards, when she’s not there anymore.”
In 2013, Akerman gave a live reading in English from Ma mère rit, and a recording became part of Maniac Shadows, a multimedia installation at The Kitchen in New York. So there are at least passages from the book that have been translated, but now we can look forward to two new complete versions. Corina Copp will translate Ma mère rit for The Song Cave, which has secured rights for the U.S., and Silver Press will be bringing out its edition in the UK. Both aim to publish in the late spring or early summer of next year, and Silver Press is currently working towards an accompanying series of screenings in London.
Jeanne Dielman will likely be screened as part of that series, and Adina Glickstein has recently raised a pertinent question in a piece for the feminist film journal Another Gaze. Jeanne Dielman, she argues, “fulfills the ultimate goal that post-’68 film criticism outlined for politically conscious cinema.” Class struggle, she explains, has shifted from the factory to the domestic front, where Akerman’s Jeanne thanklessly toils in a film that’s “revolutionary” in terms of both form and content. “So why, then,” asks Glickstein, “is Jeanne Dielman—or any other depiction of feminized labor—so frequently left out of conversations about cinema’s relationship to the class struggle?”
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