Old New York still existed when Chantal Akerman made this magnificent opus, really 2 films layered together, the intimate picture of a town that, essentially, is no more; and the intimate letters from a mom, so far away, who misses her daughter. The combination is brilliant.
What’s trully private in this film? The letters, written by someone who sails with tired diligence between work, short holidays and health issues, seem cleansed of any intimate detail. Their ‘privacy’ is so general, that only names individualize the correspondence. It’s easy to imagine any mother delivering such news, using another family nomenclature for friends and siblings. The generic textual scheme would be the
Saw this 3rd on a dvd after La Chambre & Hotel Monterey, and in some ways it’s a cross between them: The autobiographical tempered by/juxtaposed against the impersonal/mechanical, and - as importantly - vice versa. Speech vs soundscape; insight vs image... And a deliciously iconic & culturally definitive depiction of 70s NYC (that subway platform 40 min in!) captured via Akerman's unique outsider inside perspective.
Mildly interesting setup for a 30-40 minute student film - increasingly forlorn letters from Akerman's mother in Belgium read over images of desolate lonely mid-seventies NYC, where the director has moved - flogged out to a soporific 90 minutes. I'm a bright hopeful lad, so I at times watch this sort of thing to the end, expecting a second idea to swerve the monotony onto some new path. But Akerman's a one-idea gal.
Lovely to look at, interesting to ponder and find those links one assumes Chantal Akerman was intending for us to appreciate as expansions of her self-referential slices of NY and her mother. On the other hand her witness formalism is too rigorous for me--a bit like reading a text book on love instead of kissing someone. The simplicity of her film was altogether engaging however.
The sense of loneliness in this film is so deeply felt that at times it's almost unbearable, but there's also a warmth here that's missing in Je tu il elle. Akerman has a painter's eye for composition and a brilliant sense of rhythm. Entrancing.