No Home Movie (2015) dir. Chantal Akerman


Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie (2015) is partially a lot of things.  It is primarily a collection of private vignettes between the filmmaker and her mother.  It sometimes appears haphazard as they move in and out of frame, or are overheard in another room altogether, while the camera rests on a table.  Other moments are staged like documentary interviews.  Some passages are clumsily recorded Skype conversations.  These glimpses of relationship are strung together with rapidly tracking, passenger side perspectives of car travel.  The dialogue covers family history, petty argument, banal pleasantries and travel plans and shopping arrangements.  It is also stunningly evocative and cumulatively heartfelt.  On a laptop screen, Akerman’s mother haltingly declares her love and admiration for her daughter. As the light flares and dims, the camera jostles, unable to simply contain this moment.

There is a direct connection between this film and Akerman’s 1977 News From Home.  That piece examined her move from away from her family and into New York City.  Slow and unremarkable scenes of daily life along there streets and subways of Akerman’s new city were set to the narration of letters her mother wrote her.  In that the idea of home was fixed somewhere else, somewhere Akerman had left behind.  Her mother was worrying after her and wondering why she was not more regularly in touch.  In the revision, the filmmaker returns, but the title suggests a lack of center.  Home is no longer where she was born or raised or who she lived with.  Nor is home any of the hotels or cars she seems to inhabit.  The unintended consequence of the years between her leaving and now is the gradual dissolution of a fixed sense of belonging.  This may have become environmentally diffuse, but abstractly exists in the storytelling impulse.  Both Chantal and her mother are fully engaged in tales of family history and the underlying relationships.  There is a generational and also temperamental difference in some of their approach.  The elder recounts facts, marriages and movements between countries.  This alone is captivating, as the family tries to evade the spread of Nazi occupation.  Chantal always wants to elaborate or annotate these memories.  She sees adulterous longing, religious disillusion, and communist sympathy motivating or sabotaging these events.  This younger speculation about stoic elders is almost a trope in itself, but the minor disagreement between artist and mother is only endearing.  Much the same as when mother cannot help but still scold Chantal for how little she used to eat and Chantal resolutely insists she knew better.

The film is also unavoidably final.  It ended up being a document of the end of life for both mother and daughter.  It is moments of plaintive, composed beauty now cut with harrowing sorrow.  These are interrupted by awkward camera movements and blown out changes in lighting.  There are literally reflective images of Ackerman and camera in window panes or laptop margins.  The interviews, the images and the entire process bring them together.  The film is something uncontainable and stunning.  The world becomes smaller as the compassion engulfs it.  It is as though Ackerman finds her home just as it vanishes.

No Home Movie
dir. Chantal Ackerman
115 min

screens at the Brattle Theatre 9/13 @ 7PM

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