Chantal Akerman took her own life in Paris this Monday, October 5, at age 65. Her No Home Movie screened last night, Wednesday the 7th, within the main slate of the 53rd New York Film Festival, with additional screenings scheduled for 6:15pm tonight, October 8th, and 1pm on Sunday the 11th. Additionally, the NYFF has added free screenings of her 1997 autobiographical portrait Chantal Akerman by Chantal Akerman, and her 1975 masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, on Friday afternoon.
When I saw No Home Movie in August, Chantal Akerman was alive. I write this review less than 24 hours after finding out she has died. This incredible film will now be written on as Akerman’s last, which, of course, it is—but as we know “last films” take on a certain connotation. We naively look for elements that bring an oeuvre to a close, a swan song as it were. But No Home Movie is not a last film that provides such satisfactions. Instead, it is a film that, like all others she made, opens Akerman’s cinema up further and complicates it.
Beginning with a four-minute shot of a tree blowing in a violent wind in a desolate landscape, No Home Movie is a film that will take place largely in the interiors of Natalia Akerman’s (Chantal’s mother) Brussels apartment during the last months of her life. Chantal engages in conversation with her, cooks for her, and chats with her over Skype when she’s traveling. Followers of Akerman’s cinema (and life) will know the importance her mother has within it. No Home Movie is a loving and devastating portrait, one that endearingly shares with us a beautiful mother-daughter dynamic, but also articulates a common, inherited pain between the two, mostly revolving around Natalia’s aching memories of Auschwitz, which she survived. Akerman broaches the subject, trying to capture an oral history with her camera before it fades away.
We return to the desolate landscape, the camera offering the point-of-view of a lost wanderer. The space of the apartment feels increasingly barren, as the life that occupies it weakens. From the beginning, Akerman has investigated the meanings of domestic space, and here still she discovers new nuances, echoes of loneliness and mortality contained in halls and doorways. The title doesn’t declare that this isn’t a home movie, but rather a movie about No Home. Akerman may have been left with questions about existence that she herself couldn’t answer, but she asked them beautifully, often painfully, and we are privileged to be able to continue searching along with her timeless, powerful images.