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At the cinematheque: "Portrait d'une jeune fille de la fin des années 60 à Bruxelles" (Akerman, 1994)

David McDougall
Last Monday night, MoMA played two installments from the series "Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge...", a series of one-hour television episodes "in which French directors were asked to contribute films based on their recollections of adolescence" (BFI). The first episode shown was Chantal Akerman's Portrait of a Young Girl at the End of the 1960s in Brussels,followed by Claire Denis's U.S. Go Home. Denis's film (which was co-written by Anne Wiazemsky) is a rich portrayal of the emotional components of being on the cusp of maturity, of the moments of striving for your maturity to be recognized - and of the moments when both that recognition and its lack leave you wounded. It's a film to be savored.
Akerman's episode is an achievement of an entirely different level. It moves beyond being one of the great coming-of-age films; it is simply one of the great films. A moving, multifaceted, and magical hour, presented with honesty and subtle artistry.
The film's nuances are beyond summary. So, some sketches:
A girl has decided to ditch school forever; she tears up her report card. At the movies, a boy next to her touches her leg with his; they talk, they kiss. They spend the day together. The girl makes plans to attend a party. They steal a Leonard Cohen record. She breaks into a relative's house so the boy has a place to sleep.
Things happen beyond these sketches, but I will leave them aside. These simple events are full of poetry, of confusion, discovery, ambivalence, insecurity, beauty.
The title character is played by Circé Lethem (who, incidentally, is the daughter of Belgian filmmaker Roland Lethem). She is luminous. Her character thinks that her friend is much prettier, but even though she's right she's also wrong and it's the boy who's right, the boy who thinks she's beautiful.
I'm overwhelmed by everything in this film. It's the film I'd like to watch, the moments I'd like to remember, the movie I want to make. It's perfect.
And it's playing again today, Wed, Feb 6 at 6 PM at MoMA in New York.
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