Under the Influence

Ira Sachs Finds a Model of Artistic Courage in Je tu il elle

On Film / Visual Analysis — Nov 17, 2019


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s an aspiring filmmaker in the early nineties, Ira Sachs first sat down to watch Chantal Akerman’s 1975 feature debut, Je tu il elle, about an adrift young woman (played by the director herself) grasping for human connectionAt the time, he didn’t know what to make of it. It was only after he’d begun to win wide acclaim for his own movies—including a Grand Jury Prize win at Sundance for his naturalistic relationship drama Forty Shades of Blue (2005)—that he had a second encounter with the film that really floored him. Selected by writer and gay-rights activist Sarah Schulman to show in Sachs’s still-running New York screening series Queer/Art/Film, Je tu il elle was this time around a total revelation for the director, inspiring him with the bravery of its emotional transparency and the boldness of its narrative structure.

In the latest installment of our ongoing Under the Influence series, in which we ask artists to spotlight films from the collection that mean the most to them, Sachs discusses the particular place that Akerman’s provocative movie has since come to occupy in his personal canon. The director—whose latest movie, the lovingly crafted, Isabelle Huppert–starring Frankie, is now in select theaters—identifies some of Akerman’s own experimental-film inspirations, and analyzes the minimalist, durational style she arrived at with her first feature-length work. As he also says here, Je tu il elle’s raw confessional quality, and the open, hopeful scene of lovemaking between two women with which the film concludes, were not far from his mind while he was conceiving his own Keep the Lights On (2012), a movingly candid, semiautobiographical film about a gay couple’s tumultuous ten-year relationship.