Chantal Akerman: News from Home

Chantal Akerman’s film News from Home (1977) is a collection of beautifully shot tableaux of New York (the work of the US-based French cinematographer Babette Mangolte). Because of the length of the scenes, the film has an odd photographic sense to it, capturing life in the city as it walks in and out of the camera’s steady framings, panoramas and travellings. This is a New York that no longer exists, a dirty brown worn down place, where Akerman lived for a few years in the early 1970’s.

The field of tension and the heart of the film lie in the interaction and juxtaposition of the visuals and the soundtrack. In a voice-over, Akerman reads aloud the letters she received from her mother when she lived there. She is reading the letters with probably the same enthusiasm as she received them; they are read aloud in a quick monotone diction (which does actually make it difficult to catch all the words since, in the English version, the letters are read translated into English and Akerman’s accent is quite present). The mother’s reproaching words are regularly drowned by the sound of New York: the sound of what we see, cars and subways going by, takes over almost like waves. This is why the film should be shown without subtitles, this displacement and movement of when and what we can’t, or barely can, hear is important.

The letters are filled with pain, illness, worries, anxiety, boredom, exhaustion, gossip, hypochondria, love, and occasionally, dollar bills. “Anyway, I’m not complaining” the constantly complaining mother writes, continuously demanding news from the daughter: more letters more often! The family, the binding “your mother who loves you” as the mother signs every letter, is heavy, a burden, and yet something you can’t or won’t get away from or leave completely.

You get absorbed by the film, of what you see, and are struck by – and maybe recognize – the state of loneliness, the free feeling of being anonymous, the joy of becoming a stranger or maybe even somebody else. News from Home is not a portrait of New York; it is a portrait of all these mental states and emotions, of exile, of escape.

The film has the most wonderful final scene. It is a grey day, the camera/her/we leave Manhattan by boat, the sound of the motor takes over and slowly as we sail out to sea, New York fades away in the mist. An island, an idea, a mirage…

News from Home (France/Belgium/West Germany, 1977, 85 min.) by Chantal Akerman, recently shown at the Copenhagen Architecture Festival 2016.

!! Cinemateket in Copenhagen is screening Akerman’s last film No Home Movie (2015) at 16h30 March 31.

6 pen heads!

Share your love
Sara Thelle
Sara Thelle
Articles: 39